JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday signed into law legislation that limits nuisance lawsuits against farms and livestock producers.
The measure restricts how much money people could win in nuisance lawsuits against livestock and crop producers. It also seeks to prohibit neighbors from filing repeated nuisance claims arising out of similar conditions against the same farm.
Nixon's signed the measure one day after the state Senate gave the legislation final approval. Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed a prior version last week but indicated that he was willing to work with the Republican-led legislature on revisions.
The legislation limits compensatory damages against farms to the reduction in the rental value of neighboring property in cases where a "temporary nuisance" exists and to the reduction of the property's fair market value if a "permanent nuisance" exists. It also requires that subsequent nuisance lawsuits involving the same properties and problems be treated as "permanent nuisance" claims in court.
In vetoing the original legislation, Nixon raised concerns that the monetary limits could have applied to punitive damages. Nixon also said the restrictions on repeated lawsuits could have applied not only to agricultural nuisances but also to other alleged nuisances, such as noisy neighbors.
"Punitive damages are an important legal tool: They send a strong message to bad actors to clean up their act," Nixon said in a statement Wednesday.
Nixon said the revised version addressed his concerns. The governor signed the legislation without a bill signing ceremony.
The nuisance lawsuit restrictions come after hog-producer Premium Standard Farms — a significant employer in northern Missouri — said last year that it might be forced to leave the state if it continued to be targeted by nuisance lawsuits. Such lawsuits have resulted in multimillion-dollar awards against the company, including an $11 million award to a group of 15 northwest Missouri residents.
Earlier this week, a southwest Missouri jury awarded nearly $2 million to a dozen plaintiffs who claimed odors from a nearby hog farm owned by Iowa-based Synergy had ruined their way of life.
Sen. Brad Lager, who was one of the sponsors of the legislation, said it's important for people to work with their neighbors to resolve odor problems and other issues. He said the multiple lawsuits that have been filed against Premium Standard Farms had turned it into a sort of "slot machine."
"The number of these lawsuits has exploded," said Lager, R-Savannah. "No industry — not even agriculture — can sustain that in the long term."
Associated Press writer Wes Duplantier contributed to this report.