RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Virginia-based Smithfield Foods said it would appeal the decision of a North Carolina federal jury which awarded more than $50 million in damages to neighbors of a hog operation found responsible for what the plaintiffs called intense smells, noise and other disturbances.
Jurors on Thursday awarded the 10 neighbors of a 15,000-head swine operation a total of $750,000 in compensation, plus $50 million in damages designed to punish the corporation that owns the animals.
Lawyers didn't sue the Bladen County farm's owner, instead targeting the hog-production division of Smithfield Foods.
The decision is the first in dozens of lawsuits filed by more than 500 neighbors complaining about hog operations.
Jurors decided that "the defendant owed them (neighbors) a standard of care in terms of trying to minimize the odors and other undesirable fallout from their processes," said Wake Forest University law professor Sidney Shapiro, who has followed the cases. "Apparently the jury decided they (Smithfield) knew about and disregarded all this fallout even though they could do something positive to reduce it."
"The lawsuits are a serious threat to a major industry, to North Carolina's entire economy and to the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of North Carolinians," Smithfield Senior Vice President Keira Lombardo said in a statement.
Neighbors say the spraying sends the smells and animal waste airborne, allowing it to drift into their homes and sometimes coat outdoor surfaces on their properties.
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