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Buckeye Egg neighbors win $19.7 million in suit

NEWARK, Ohio - A jury yesterday awarded neighbors of Buckeye Egg Farm about $19.7 million in damages, a judge said.

The amount covers negligence by the state's largest egg farm and the nuisance of odors and fly infestations the neighbors say were caused by Buckeye Egg and its owner, Anton Pohlmann, Judge Gregory Frost said.

Damages were awarded to each plaintiff individually. The amounts range from $671,210, which went to seven neighbors, to a total of just more than $2.4 million that went to a couple.

The total verdict amounted to $19,719,722. Compensatory damages, which cover a loss of use of property and its diminished value, totaled nearly $4 million. Punitive damages, which are ordered as a punishment for wrongful acts, amounted to about $15.7 million.

Mr. Pohlmann had said such a verdict could bankrupt the company.

Jurors heard three weeks of testimony and began deliberating Friday after closing arguments.

Twenty-one neighbors of the Buckeye Egg Farm near Croton in central Ohio sued the company and have complained for years about environmental problems.

Most of the neighbors were present when the verdict was read, and they gave the jurors a standing ovation as they left the courtroom, said Judge Frost of Licking County Common Pleas Court.

One of the plaintiffs, Chuck Divelbiss, said he was pleased that the jury had sent a strong message “that business needs to be done in a responsible manner.”

Mr. Divelbiss, a retired employee for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said his home is about three quarters of a mile from the egg farm.

“The fly situation was unbearable. They also polluted our creek with spills of ammonia and runoffs of manure,” he explained.

He didn't know the exact amount of his award, but said it was less than $1 million. “I'm sure a significant portion of it is punitive. We're hoping things will improve significantly with our environment now.”

The lawsuit was one of several against Buckeye Egg. The state has filed seven sets of contempt charges for violations such as spilling contaminated water into a creek and failing to stop large outbreaks of flies.

The company has said it is making improvements in its operations, even as it loses money. Mr. Pohlmann said the company has invested more than $90 million in his four facilities since 1996.

That includes $1 million for a storm water pond that the EPA mandated in Croton. About $2.5 million will be used to build barns in Croton, where the new composting procedure will be used.

Earlier this year, Mr. Pohlmann signed a tentative agreement with the state saying the company would pay the state $40,000 a quarter for just over six years.

The fine, which will total $1 million, is to settle a lawsuit filed by the attorney general's office in December, 1999.

The suit accused Buckeye Egg of dumping dead chickens in a field, polluting creeks by improperly handling manure, and causing infestations of flies, beetles, and other insects at its farms around the state.

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