INSTITUTE INDEX: N.C. law could limit damage payouts for hog industry victims

A rally for environmental justice at the North Carolina legislature in 2015. (Photo by the Waterkeeper Alliance via Flickr.)

Amount a unanimous jury awarded this month to 10 African-American neighbors of an industrial hog farm in Eastern North Carolina in a federal nuisance lawsuit against Murphy-Brown, the division of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods that owns the animals: over $50 million

Year in which China's WH Group, the world's largest pork producer, bought Smithfield Foods: 2013

Year in which the plaintiffs' attorneys began crafting their case, which focused on the industry's longstanding practice of disposing of hog waste in malodorous, health-damaging, and polluting open-air pits: 2014

After the North Carolina legislature placed a permanent moratorium on the building of new hog waste pits in 2007, number it allowed to remain in use at the urging of the politically powerful industry: 4,000

According to a 2014 analysis by UNC researchers, factor by which Hispanics, African Americans, and American Indians respectively are more likely to live within three miles of an industrial hog farm than non-Hispanic whites: 1.39, 1.54, 2.18

Number of other federal nuisance lawsuits currently pending against Smithfield: 25

If juries make similar awards in those suits, total amount the company could end up paying to the plaintiffs: $2.5 billion

Monetary damages awarded to each of the 10 plaintiffs in the first lawsuit: $75,000

Punitive damages awarded to each: $5 million

Year in which North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto to pass a bill limiting damages in nuisance lawsuits against agricultural operations — though after public outcry it eventually excluded the pending hog farm cases: 2017

Number of times punitive damages are allowed to exceed compensatory damages under another North Carolina law, which also bars judges from informing juries about the limit: 3

Year in which that law was passed at the behest of one of the state's most powerful business lobbies, with Republicans in control of the state House for the first time since the 1890s and concerned about a threatened lawsuit over a hog waste spill: 1995

If the law on punitive damages is applied to the first hog farm nuisance lawsuit, amount to which the total judgment would be limited: $3.25 million

Record operating profit that Smithfield Foods reported in the first half of 2016, before it stopped releasing financial information to the public: $447 million

Operating profit that WH Group reported last year: $1.86 billion

Date on which the plaintiffs' attorneys filed documents arguing that North Carolina's punitive damages cap is unconstitutional: 5/2/2018

(Click on figure to go to source.)