By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- A Kansas jury has awarded farmers $217.7 million in compensatory damages in the first of several class-action lawsuits filed against Syngenta over the shipment of Viptera corn to China.
The jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in Kansas City took less than a day to render a verdict.
A spokesperson for Syngenta told DTN that punitive damages were not awarded in the case. Instead, damages were awarded on actual losses as determined by the jury.
"We are disappointed with today's verdict because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies even when they are fully approved in the U.S.," Syngenta said in a statement to DTN. "The case is without merit and we will move forward with an appeal and continue to defend the rights of American farmers to access safe and effective U.S.-approved technologies."
Syngenta went on to say in its statement that it commercialized Agrisure Viptera "in full compliance with U.S. regulatory and legal requirements, including USDA, EPA, and FDA regulations.
"Viptera had also received approval in the key import markets recommended at the time by the National Corn Growers Association and other industry associations.
"Syngenta believes that American farmers should have access to the latest U.S.-approved technology to help them increase their productivity and yield. American farmers shouldn't have to rely on a foreign government to decide what products they can use on their farms."
Donald L. Swanson, an attorney with Koley Jessen in Omaha who follows the Syngenta cases, told DTN the Kansas case is the first of what may be a "half-dozen" cases.
"The idea is to try a number of cases like this and get a jury verdict in each," Swanson said. "The jury verdicts will then inform the parties on how the overall case should settle. That's what happened, for example, in the prior rice cases. A positive jury verdict in the first Bellwether trial is, obviously, a very good thing for the plaintiffs. Syngenta will appeal this ruling."
Swanson said the appeal process could take a couple of years to complete.
"What the appeal process will do is allow time for the other Bellwether trials to occur," he said.
The lawsuit was filed by four Kansas farmers who represent more than 7,000 farmers in the state. It is the first of multiple lawsuits claiming Syngenta should have inspected and prevented harvested Viptera (MIR 162) corn from being shipped to China in 2013 and 2014.
Plaintiffs in the case allege Syngenta sold corn with Agrisure Viptera and Duracade traits prior to the traits receiving import approvals in several countries, including China. China claims it found and rejected corn shipments containing the traits, which plaintiffs say led to lower corn prices.
The second case is set for trial on July 10 in Minnesota state court. That case was brought on behalf of about 60,000 farmers.
The official lawsuits filed on behalf of corn producers include cases in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
All farmers in the United States who priced corn for sale after Nov. 18, 2013, were approved last fall as a major class in the ongoing lawsuit.
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
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