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July 31, 2009 - Claim Denied in Chemical Suit

A woman claimed that drifting agricultural chemicals made both her and her horses sick, and she sued the company responsible for applying the chemicals.

Last week, a Hamilton County, Illinois,  jury ruled against that woman.

After a two-week trial, the jury deliberated about two hours July 22 before finding against Hamilton County horse breeder Elaine Zohfeld in her lawsuit against Wabash Valley Service Co. and three of its employees.

Zohfeld and her husband, Vernon, owner/operators of EZ Farms, an equine breeding business, filed the lawsuit in 2003, claiming Wabash Valley and its employees were negligent in the application of agrichemicals in a field adjacent to their property.

Vernon Zohfeld died of a heart attack in 2007, prior to the lawsuit coming to trial.

The Zohfelds' business was to "breed, raise, train and sell" thoroughbred racehorses, and the lawsuit sought a monetary judgment against the White County-based company for current and future medical and veterinary expenses, permanent loss of breeding stock, lost earning capacity and "pain and suffering."

The lawsuit claimed Wabash Valley, through its employees, applied various agrichemicals on a tract of land belonging to Hamilton County resident Robert Drake in weather conditions that made the chemicals more hazardous to humans and animals in two instances in 1998 and 2000.

In denying negligence claims, Wabash Valley claimed Elaine Zohfeld was "contributorily negligent" by remaining outside on June 26, 1998, while chemicals were being applied, failing to take "ordinary care" to protect herself and the horses, according to a court document.

Zohfeld also claimed Wabash Valley failed to warn her about feeding her horses from areas which may have been contaminated by drifting agrichemicals, a court document stated.

Both Zohfeld and the horses experienced various symptoms and injuries which she attributed to the chemical applications, Zohfeld's lawsuit indicated.

Steve Kinder, a plant manager at Wabash Valley, and Michael J. Pfister and Noah D. Horton, who drove the spray equipment which applied the chemicals in the two instances mentioned in the lawsuit, were also named as defendants in the suit.

Drake was named as a defendant in the original lawsuit but was later dismissed.

By its verdict, the jury decided that Wabash Valley and its employees had not violated provisions of the Illinois Pesticide Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act relating to the "faulty, careless or ineffective manner" of applying pesticides and had not used any chemical "in a manner inconsistent with its labeling."

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