Case Conclusion Date: 02.04.2008
Practice Area: Agriculture
Outcome: Defense Verdict (Houlding – 11-1 (D) negligence, 12-0 (D) trespass; Fortune - 11-1 (D) negligence, 12-0 (D) trespass)
Description: 16 DAY JURY TRIAL TO VERDICT: Defendant Grouleff Aviation, Inc. was represented by Gregory S. Mason of McCormick, Barstow, LLP. Defendant Grouleff Aviation, Inc., an aerial crop dusting company, made four aerial applications of herbicides to properties owned by co-defendants, Jeanne Gragnani Lloyd and Vincent Marshall, during February and March, 2005 in the Cantua Creek area located in Fresno County, California. The plaintiffs also contended that defendants Don Gragnani Farms, OPC Farms, Inc., Vincent Marshall, Jeanne-Gragnani-Lloyd and Gragnani Ag Services, Inc. were participating in a joint farming venture, and as such, said defendants were jointly and vicariously liable for the alleged negligent activities of Grouleff Aviation, Inc. The plaintiffs, Houlding Farms and Fortune Farms, suffered losses in 677 acres of tomato fields located in the general vicinity where the Grouleff Aviation applications were made. The plaintiffs contended that a witness observed, during one of the Grouleff Aviation applications, herbicides drifting and forming particles upon a vehicle windshield in a southeast fashion across at least one of the plaintiffs’ fields. The plaintiffs also contended that the chemical “fingerprint” found in 600 acres of the allegedly affected fields was consistent with an herbicide application consisting of glyphosate and oxyfluorfen, for which only one such application was made by any pesticide applicator - - Grouleff Aviation - - in the relevant time frame. Grouleff Aviation contended that the testimony concerning the observation of chemicals drifting in a southeast fashion was manufactured; that the 600 acres of tomatoes, for which the presence of oxyfluorfen was allegedly observed, did not demonstrate any evidence of oxyfluorfen damage; and that Grouleff Aviation’s applications were performed consistently with the standard of care required of an aerial applicator and there was not off-target drift. The plaintiffs’ combined claimed damages totaled $654,342.57, plus attorney’s fees predicated upon a trespass theory. The defendants requested defense verdicts. Demand and offers: Grouleff Aviation, Inc.’s insurance carrier tendered its $300,000 policy limits to settle Houlding and Fortune claims; however, the tender was contingent upon settling another claim for almond losses exceeding $1 million, which allegedly arose out some of the same Grouleff Aviation, Inc. applications. In addition, the “Gragnani” defendants offered $75,000 with an indicated $100,000, during a mediation. The plaintiffs’ settlement demand during the mediation was $650,000. Plaintiffs indicated prior to trial that $500,000 would settle the Houlding and Fortune matters, as well as the almond loss matter.