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In 1999, a barn housing chickens on the Buckeye Egg Farm outside Columbus, Ohio, began leaking manure into a local creek, killing the fish and fouling the area. That same spring, the farm had another major spill, sending ammonium fertilizer into a different creek. Shortly thereafter, said plaintiffs’ attorney Joel Campbell, nearby property owners sued Buckeye and its owner, Anton Pohlman, charging negligence, nuisance and trespass. In addition to the pollution, said Campbell, the plaintiffs contended that the operation had caused a massive infestation of flies. The farm had been on the site since the early 1980s, but grew significantly in the past decade, Campbell said. The operation now has more than 7 million chickens, but, he said, the manure management process has not kept up with the growth. Campbell said that in the ’80s, “Buckeye was authorized by the state [Environmental Protection Agency] to grow that high,” but has since received numerous citations for violations of environmental rules. Each of the plaintiffs testified at trial about “how it affected their day-to-day lives,” said Campbell. “They testified they haven’t been able to sit on their back porch for years because of the flies.” The defendants conceded that there were some environmental problems, said defense counsel Thomas Rosenberg. “But most were issues between us and the Ohio EPA, and the problems did not affect the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs’ damages were not in the neighborhood of their claims.” The farm has committed $50 million to $60 million to address the problems, he said. On Sept. 9, a Newark, Ohio, jury awarded the plaintiffs $19.7 million, including $15.7 million in punitives. The jury also awarded the plaintiffs an as-yet-undetermined amount of attorneys’ fees. The defendants are weighing their options, including settlement negotiations, post-trial motions and a possible bankruptcy filing, said Rosenberg. The plaintiffs’ attorneys were David Bertsch, David Hilkert and Peter Hahn of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs in Akron, Ohio; and Joel Campbell and John Sproat of Britt, Campbell, Nagel & Sproat in Columbus, Ohio. The defense attorneys were Thomas Rosenberg and Rex Littrell of Ulmer & Berne, also in Columbus.

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