20
Jul
2006

Court upholds nearly $533,000 verdict in stray voltage case

From: Darlene Raunio
Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2006 08:49:49 -0500

After reading this in a newspaper (Rhinelander Daily News) I needed to do a "Search" to find in order to send to you. Upon my "Search" I noticed it was also printed in MANY other Newspapers / News Media (see below)


(This article (below) is longer than the [first 4] 4 paragraphs shown in the Rhinelander paper) Duluth News Tribune
//www.duluthsuperior.com/mld/duluthsuperior/15066447.htm

Posted on Tue, Jul. 18, 2006

Court upholds nearly $533,000 verdict in stray voltage case

ROBERT IMRIE
Associated Press

WAUSAU, Wis. - A state appeals court on Tuesday upheld nearly $533,000 in damages to two Marathon County dairy farmers who claimed a power company's stray voltage hurt their cows' health and milk production.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals unanimously rejected contentions from Northern States Power Co. that a jury's verdict must be reversed. The company argued that some of the verdict questions that a judge submitted to the jury before it began its deliberations were in error.

The judge properly worded one key verdict question on so-called comparative negligence, allowing the jury to consider whether the farmers' management of the herd contributed to any problems, the three-judge panel said.

According to court records, James and Michael Gumz of rural Athens began noticing physical and behavioral problems in their herd in 1991, 10 years after they bought their parents' dairy herd and farm. The problems included cow deaths and poor milk production.

Experts determined nutrition wasn't the problem, leading NSP to conduct tests in 1996, court records said. Those tests found that "cow contact voltage" was below any "level of concern."

Eventually, the farmers hired an independent electrical tester who determined that stray voltage was originating from NSP's distribution system, court records said.

The Gumzes sued the power company in 2001 for negligence. NSP now does business as Xcel Energy.

Stray voltage is electricity that leaks from a utility's electrical distribution system or farm wiring. Some utility companies argue stray voltage isn't a problem, while some farmers claim it hurts cows' health.

Stray voltage has been an issue for dairy farmers since the early 1980s, prompting dozens of lawsuits against power companies, said Paul Zimmerman, executive director of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest farm organization.

Several cases are still weaving through the courts, some of them starting two years ago, he said.

But litigation is declining from a decade ago because most power companies serving dairy farms now have programs in place to help address unwanted currents and electrical quality issues, Zimmerman said. There have been more upgrades of lines and rewiring of farms, some with loans from the utility companies, Zimmerman said.

"Utilities are trying to be progressive and help farmers resolve the issue," he said.

The appeals court also upheld Circuit Judge Gregory Grau's ruling that dismissed the farmers' claim for triple damages in the dispute.

The Gumzes failed to provide any evidence of a "willful, wanton or reckless act or omission" by the power company to violate Wisconsin law, the panel said.

James Gumz said Tuesday he was happy he won the appeal but he was disillusioned about the whole court fight.

"It has been a long, dragged out process," he said.

His 100-cow herd is doing better today because of some "expensive modifications" done to address stray voltage, but the money the jury awarded "doesn't come close, after paying lawyers and experts and stuff like that," to making the dairy farm whole again, Gumz said.

The lawsuit originally sought nearly $920,000 in damages, he said.

The farmer expected Tuesday's ruling would be appealed to the state Supreme Court, delaying the end of the dispute, he said.

NSP's attorney, Michael O'Brien, did not immediately return a message left at his office.

ON THE NET Wisconsin Court of Appeals: //www.courts.state.wi.us


I also found this article on the following newspaper links (some may be shown as News "Briefs"):

Houston Chronicle
//www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/fn/4055370.html

Chicago Tribune
//www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/wisconsin/chi-ap-wi-strayvoltage,1,6866836.story?coll=chi-newsap_wi-hed

MSN Money
//news.moneycentral.msn.com/provider/providerarticle.asp?Feed=AP&Date=20060718&ID=5876239

Business Week online
//www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8IUKHMG0.htm

Grand Forks Herald (N.D.)
//www.grandforks.com/mld/grandforks/15066447.htm

Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) James Gumz et al vs Northern States Power Company Marathon County Case Number 2001CV000998
//wcca.wicourts.gov/caseDetails.do?countyNo=37&caseNo=2001CV000998&cacheId=AC08116B6CA90FC9AE3E2F63A71E0DB0&recordCount=1&offset=0


Informant: JCM Pelican
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