Type: Law Bulletins
Date: 06/11/2010

Courts Rule Both Ways on Pesticide Spray Drift Liability

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) does not give injured farmers, or others injured, the right to initiate a private lawsuit. A family of organic dairy farmers accused St. Martin Cooperative of violating a FIFRA prohibition against using a registered pesticide “in a manner inconsistent with its labeling” and in a manner that causes “unreasonable adverse effects” on humans and the environment.

The farmers blamed St. Martin for harming the farmers’ health and property. According to the farmers, St. Martin applied Lorsban 4E to an adjacent farm. The chemical eventually drifted onto the farmers’ land causing them to suffer minor physical symptoms. The farmers also claimed the insecticide caused their land to lose its certified organic production status for 36 months. Consequently, the farm cannot produce certified dairy products on the affected land.

The appellate court dismissed the FIFRA claims brought by the farmers and agreed with other federal courts that private parties may not sue to enforce FIFRA. Only EPA may enforce compliance with FIFRA.

In contrast, a group of Idaho farmers were awarded nearly $17 million by another district court under claims unrelated to FIFRA because of damage to crops caused by the DuPont herbicide, Oust. The farmers claimed that Oust drifted onto their land and damaged their crops after the Bureau of Land Management applied it aerially to prevent the emergence of cheattgrass following wildfires on nearby federal land. The court concluded that BLM negligently selected Oust and the application sites, caused a nuisance, and trespassed. Likewise, the court found that DuPont harmed the farmers by selling a “defective and unreasonably dangerous product due to its design.

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