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$2 million awarded in dairy suit

Jury says silo unloader failed

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

RED WING, Minn. -- A Goodhue County jury recently awarded $2 million to Lexvold Dairy Partners in the case of a defective silo unloader.

The award -- one of the largest ever in a Goodhue County civil trial -- compensates Brent Lexvold, Brian Lexvold and Roseanne Lexvold for damages accrued when a Big Jim Quantum silo unloader allegedly malfunctioned on their dairy farm.

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Rochester attorney Will Mahler, who along with Charles Bird represented the Lexvolds, said the silo unloader was made by Ft. Atkinson, Wis.-based J-Star Industries to capitalize on the design flaws of the Harvestore silo.

Mahler and Bird represented several farmers in their claims against Harvestore, the now-defunct silo manufacturer, in the 1980s.

Mahler said the silo unloader fluffed the feed in the silo, and as soon as it was exposed to air, the feed began to spoil. Because the cows didn't eat the spoiled feed they developed a condition called rumenacidosis, Mahler said. This digestive condition leads to reduced milk production, reproduction problems and lameness.

"This is exactly what happened on the Lexvold farm," Mahler said.

Rochester attorney Doug Boese, who represented J-Star Industries, disputes Mahler's claim.

The Big Jim Quantum silo unloader and its predecessors have been on the market since the 1950s and there have been few complaints about the product, said Boese, an attorney with the firm Dunlap and Seeger.

The Big Jim Quantum silo unloader has been on the market since 1997 and there are 350 to 380 in use, Boese said.

"This is the first time anyone has complained," Boese said.

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He expects the company to decide whether to ask for a new trial in the next couple of weeks. The company can ask the judge to modify the amount awarded or to order a new trial. J-Star has 30 days to respond after the judge issues his findings.

The Lexvold vs. J-Star Industries case was filed May 2000 and the jury's decision was reached Feb. 1.

The jury found that J-Star falsely represented facts to the Lexvolds and that the company knew the claims were false at the time they were made. The jury also ruled that J-Star violated the Consumer Protection Statue, allowing the Lexvolds to recover court costs.

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