Alleging that a government contractor sprayed an herbicide on their property as part of transmission-line maintenance, the owners of a state-certified organic beef farm in Skagit County, Washington, have sued the U.S. government and the contractor for damages incurred by the contamination of their property. Benson v. United States, No. 11-01619 (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Wash., Seattle, filed September 28, 2011). According to the complaint, the plaintiffs have a contract with the government “with regards to all maintenance on the power lines and providing recovery of any resulting damages.” In 2008, the plaintiffs were allegedly notified that spraying would take place, and they spoke with a government representative explaining that their property could not be sprayed. They were allegedly assured that this would be noted in the paperwork and that no herbicide would be sprayed on their property.

Despite the assurances and despite a “no spray” sign on the access gate to the plaintiffs’ property, herbicide was sprayed on the property in 2009. They claim that they had to sell their existing herd on the regular market, which resulted in insufficient income “to pay off the operating capital loan needed to run the farm in 2009.” They also allegedly lost a contract for the purchase of 100 cows per year for ten years. The contamination of 2½ acres of their ranch also purportedly required the plaintiffs to preserve the remaining cattle that had not been exposed, “which resulted in the loss of use of approximately 60 acres of their farmland for three years following contamination.”  

Alleging negligence, strict liability, nuisance, breach of contract, intentional interference with business expectancy, statutory waste and damage to land and property, and common law trespass, the plaintiffs seek damages for emotional distress; loss of reputation, credibility and brand; special damages including past and future lost earnings and profits; increased expenses; and property damages. They also request permanent injunctive relief, treble damages, costs, attorney’s fees, and interest.