Agricultural Law

Lawsuit Question: Is Stray Voltage or Lack of ‘Cow Comfort’ Thinning Herds?


At least six lawsuits in southern Minnesota contend stray voltage from overloaded power lines is harming cattle.

Electricity needs to run in a complete circuit, but sometimes it can’t return to its source because of power line disrepair or overload, the Associated Press reports. When blocked, the electricity goes into the earth through power line grounding rods. Farmers contend in their lawsuits that the current travels to cattle through mud, milking machines and water troughs, harming and sometimes killing the animals.

In one suit, Siewert Holsteins of Zumbro Falls, Minn., contends 79 cows have died from stray voltage from nearby power lines. The defendant utility claims bad farming or a general lack of “cow comfort” is to blame.

State supreme courts in two other states have issued rulings that are helping farmers with such claims, the AP story says. The Wisconsin Supreme Court in a ruling last month gave farmers a long period to sue utilities. And in 2004 the Idaho Supreme Court denied an appeal of $17 million judgment against a utility in a stray voltage case.

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