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New trial denied in Crow Wing Power stray voltage case

There will be no new trial in the case of stray voltage impacting a Pine River dairy farm operation, a Cass County judge ruled Wednesday. Lawyers for Brainerd electrical cooperative Crow Wing Power, which last October was ordered to pay Randy and...

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There will be no new trial in the case of stray voltage impacting a Pine River dairy farm operation, a Cass County judge ruled Wednesday.

Lawyers for Brainerd electrical cooperative Crow Wing Power, which last October was ordered to pay Randy and Peggy Norman $6.3 million in economic and nuisance damages, sought a new trial, claiming irregularities in the court proceedings, misconduct and excessive damages.

For nearly 20 years, the Normans claimed to have experienced mysterious health issues with their dairy herd that eventually led them to shutter their business in 2012, following privately conducted tests that appeared to indicate stray voltage surged through the property.

Stray voltage has for some time been a concern of dairy farmers. Last year, there were at least six active lawsuits by Minnesota farmers against utilities companies seeking damages from stray voltage, according to a Star Tribune story. The electric current can course through the metal on a dairy farm, including through water troughs. This can lead to cows not drinking enough water, not eating enough food and a reduction in milk production as a result, according to a 2009 publication produced by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Stray voltage can also cause the animals to produce a stress hormone, decreasing the ability to fight infection.

Crow Wing Power denied the existence of any stray voltage on the property in question and said company officials did everything they could for the family despite no evidence that they were at fault for the losses. According to Char Kinzer, public relations manager, the company did their own testing and found no evidence of stray voltage. Despite the negative tests, the company went ahead with upgrades to lines on the property.

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Evidence presented by the defendants to support their claims of irregularities, misconduct and excessive damages awarded in the October trial did not meet the threshold to warrant a new one, Judge Jana M. Austad ruled.

As part of the ruling, Austad also partially granted a request by the Normans' lawyers seeking taxation of costs and disbursements, meaning Crow Wing Power will also be responsible for covering the costs incurred by the plaintiffs in the civil trial. Minnesota law allows the prevailing party in a district court to seek reimbursement, giving the court the power to determine which costs are reasonable.

Of the more than $320,000 sought by the plaintiffs, Austad found nearly $315,000 to be reasonable and supported by itemized statements and receipts. Crow Wing Power was ordered to pay this amount in addition to the $6.3 million ordered in October, the largest verdict in a stray voltage case in Minnesota history.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Related Topics: CASS COUNTYPINE RIVER
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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