Jury awards $2.5M to dairy farmers in stray voltage case

Published 9:15 am Tuesday, June 2, 2015

BUFFALO — A jury has awarded nearly $2.5 million to Waverly dairy farmers who say stray voltage from their power company’s faulty equipment cut deeply into their production.

After a long legal fight that included a ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court, a Wright County jury last month sided with farm owners Harlan and Jennifer Poppler and Roy Marschall against the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association. They alleged that Wright-Hennepin’s electrical system caused shocks to their cows because it was outdated, undersized and poorly maintained. They said their herd began experiencing a jump in health problems in 2007 when the cows became reluctant to drink water.

A jury in 2012 awarded the Popplers over $750,000, but the appellate courts ordered a new trial on the amount of damages because of errors by the trial court.

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Attorney David Sienko said Monday that the Popplers are pleased, but they fully expect another appeal.

“It’s not over yet but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Wright-Hennepin spokesman Josh Randt referred questions to the utility’s attorney, Daniel Bellig, who was out of the office and unavailable for comment Monday.

The company’s attorneys asked Judge Kathleen Mottl last week to stay the judgment pending further action. A hearing is scheduled for July 21.

Stray voltage can crop up on dairy farms when electricity leaks from power lines and equipment. It can give cows small shocks that make them shy away from their water and food or make them so skittish that they’re hard to handle. It also can reduce milk production and cause other health problems in the animals.

Sienko said this jury awarded more money because it got a closer look at the Popplers’ losses. While the Popplers always knew their herd was good, he said recent genetic testing found it was even better than they realized, so the value of the young stock they lost was higher.