Plaintiffs' attorney Michael Kaeske Jr. said during closing arguments March 8 that hog farmers should be allowed to make a profit from their hogs, but not at the expense of others.
"I ask that you make a decision that causes a change—that brings about real change and real understanding that the neighbors have rights and that their rights are valuable," Kaeske said. "That there are things that can be done and must be done for the future, not only of the neighborhood but of North Carolina."
Kaeske said hog farms could grow hogs and profit off them but not interfere with others' lives.
"Do whatever you have to do: grow your hogs, make your profit—a billion dollars a year, a billion and a half, 2 billion, 3 billion—make as much as you can, as much as you want, Kaeske said. "Grow all the hogs that you want. Export them to China, export 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent of your pork. It doesn't matter. Just don't do it in a way that interferes with other people's use and enjoyment of their property."
Kaeske said he totaled up what the top four Smithfield executives made from 2010 to 2015.
"They paid $245 million to just four people," Kaeske said. "That money—some of that money at a minimum—could have been used to fix the problems in North Carolina and then ... in 2017, the chairman of the company was paid $291 million for one year."
Kaeske said there were no covers for the hog farms, which are needed. Kaeske said Smithfield Foods President Gregg Schmidt has admitted that the covers would eliminate the odor the hog farms cause.
"But he's done no analysis of what it would take to put a cover on [my client's] lagoons," Kaeske said. "Instead, two months before trial, or three months before trial, before coming to you, they withdrew all the hogs—which of course as soon as the trial is over they're going to put the hogs back. So instead of covering the lagoons and making a fix permanent, they withdraw the hogs so they could tell you there (are) no hogs there anymore."
A jury awarded the plaintiffs $420,000 in damages, $139,000 in compensatory damages and $281,000 in punitive damages, according to the Bladen Journal. Kaeske had asked for between $30 million and $50 million for each plaintiff.
The Bladen Journal reported the case was heard by Judge Earl Britt, who also heard three of the other four cases involving the defendants. Judge David Faber heard the remaining case.
The cases involve a number of plaintiffs alleging the hogs on farms in North Carolina are a nuisance to surrounding neighbors. Many complain of the smell in the surrounding air.
The cases all name Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield, as a defendant.