Friday, November 20, 2020

Smithfield settles with neighbours

After losing in court, Smithfield Foods has reached an out-of-court settlement with neighbours who earlier were awarded $2.5 million to compensate for their having to endure odours from the company’s hog farming.

Smithfield had appealed that huge award and was successful in the new negotiations in getting evidence about corporate profits and executive salaries excluded from consideration.

But the three-judge panel rejected most of Smithfield’s arguments, primarily noting that the company knew of the potential harms of its farming methods but continued to use them anyway.

“Appellees’ evidence demonstrated that [Smithfield] did not even attempt to assess the impact of its operations on neighbors, despite known risks,” Judge Stephanie D. Thacker wrote for the court. “Based on this abundance of evidence, a jury could reasonably conclude that [Smithfield] persisted in its chosen farming practices despite its knowledge of the harms to its neighbors, exhibiting wanton or willful disregard of the neighbors’ rights to enjoyment of their property.”

The appellate court agreed with Smithfield, however, that jurors should not have heard the company’s financial details in the consideration of damages. In this specific case, the plaintiffs were awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages.

There remain many of the 25 lawsuits that have been filed to either be settled out of court or in court trials.

The take-home message for all livestock farmers is clear: be nice to your neighbours!