Processing Magazine

Ark. court: Cancer claim against poultry firms can proceed

May 14, 2008
The Associated Press is reporting that Arkansas poultry producers who were dismissed two years ago from a lawsuit that seeks to hold them responsible for a man''s leukemia are targets again of the legal action.

The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned a ruling by a lower-court judge and found that Michael Green and his parents had presented sufficient evidence to pursue their case against Tyson Foods Inc., George''s Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., and Simmons Foods Inc.

The high court said the evidence was enough to show "the poultry-producers'' chicken litter probably caused Green''s injury."

But while the high court said Washington County Circuit Judge Kim Smith should not have granted summary judgment to the companies Aug. 2, 2006, the court also said the judge correctly excluded testimony from an expert witness when the case went to trial against the remaining defendants.

A lawyer for the Greens, Jason Hatfield of Fayetteville, said a circuit court order in the case prohibits the parties from commenting on it. Kimmie Provost, a spokeswoman for Simmons, said the company had no comment. Officials with the other poultry companies did not immediately return calls for comment.

In the 2006 trial, a jury ruled in favor of Alpharma and Alpharma Animal Health, refusing to give the Greens actual damages of nearly $1 million and up to $9 million for pain and suffering. The companies make the arsenic-based feed additive Roxarsone, which is used by contract growers for the poultry companies.

Green and his parents, Michael Green Sr. and Mary Green, filed suit in 2003 along with other Prairie Grove residents, citing the presence of "cancer clusters" in the northwest Arkansas community. The court decided in 2006 to hear the claims separately, and the other cases remain pending.

The Greens claimed the younger Green was exposed to the toxin when the feed passed through the chickens, degraded into a harmful form of arsenic in poultry litter, and farmers spread the litter on fields as fertilizer. Wind then carried the dust into homes and schools, they said.

The younger Green was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia when he was a boy, while attending Prairie Grove schools about a block from his home. The disease has since gone into remission but he suffered permanent side effects, including cataracts, sterility, and an increased risk of skin cancers, according to the court opinion.