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Dairymen Win Settlement In Stray Voltage Case
"We think it's a landmark case for all dairymen who have been hurt financially by stray voltage problems caused by faulty equipment," says Joe McCormick, attorney for Wisconsin dairy farmers Marvin Zorn, and his son Ronald, both of Lena, who have been awarded a $79,786 settlement for lost milk production, vet bills and other "stray voltage" problems caused by a faulty power transformer.
Last October, a 12 member circuit court jury in Oconto County found the defendants Electric Research and Mfg., the Kentucky manufacturer of the transformer; Oconto Electric Cooperative which installed it; and Federated Rural Electric Insurance Corp., the electric company's insurer negligent and awarded the Zorns $79,786. The case was appealed to the Third District Appelate Court in Wausau where a panel of three judges upheld the lower court's finding of negligence. The defendants have now appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, asking that body to hear the case.
"We're hoping that the state Supreme Court decides not to hear the case. But, even if it is heard, we're confident that the settlement awarded the Zorns will be upheld," McCormick told FARM SHOW.
He is a member of the firm of Plier-Judge-McCormick, of Oconto, Wis. Also representing the Zorns in the case is Adrian Schoone, of Racine, president of the Wisconsin Bar Association.
"Because this is one of the nation's first stray voltage cases implicating a utility company, it has widespread ramifications. We're getting calls from attorneys throughout the U.S. who are representing dairymen in similar stray voltage cases still in litigation," says McCormick.
He notes that the Zorns started noticing decreased production, increased mastitis and other problems in their 60-cow herd soon after the transformer in question was installed in 1979. "It was replaced after several months but," says McCormick, "The stray voltage problem it caused continued to take its costly toll on the herd's health long after. Production fell about 30% over the next couple years.
"The electric company argued that lightening had triggered the stray-voltage problem, that the Zorns were at fault because of poor management, and that electrical wiring in their barn violated the state's electrical code. But the jury bought none of these arguments, holding the electric company and the other defendants totally responsible," says McCormick.
In Minnesota, shortly before this issue went to press, Richard and Denise Klein, of Miltona, were awarded $45,500 by a Douglas County jury in that state's first stray voltage case in which a utility company has been ordered to pay damages.
The jury found the Klein's electric supplier Runestone Electric Association, headquarted in Alexandria, 100% negligent for knowing about a possible stray voltage problem but failing to immediately warn the Kleins. According to attorney Robert Havorson, of New Ulm, who represented the Kleins, the national Rural Electrification Administration (REA) office in Washington, D.C. sent out a letter in Sept., 1981, recommending that its member cooperatives warn their customers about potential stray voltage problems. "But Runestone didn't publish the warning until Dec., 1982," Halvorson told FARM SHOW. "Their failure to immediately warn the Kleins of the stray voltage problem was a key factor in the utility company losing the case," Halvorson feels. "The Klein case is an important first step in holding utilities to the same standards as any other company. If you have a problem with your product and know it, you have a duty to immediately let your customers know about it. Runestone didn't and a jury has now ordered the utility to pay the Kleins $45,500 in damages."
Halvorson anticipates that the case, which Runestone's attorney has said will be appealed, will prompt many other dairymen nationwide to file similar claims against utility companies for stray voltage damages: "I'd estimate that there are 100 dairy farmers in Douglas County alone who feel they have legitimate stray voltage damage claims against their power supplier."


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1984 - Volume #8, Issue #4