A blueberry nursery owner from Aldergrove, B.C., was awarded $36 million in damages in Oregon state court on Wednesday over a defective fertilizer that destroyed plants in B.C. and Washington state.
The award is believed to be one of the largest product liability awards to a Canadian company, said lawyer Joseph Prodor, who represents the Aldergrove farmer.
J.R.T. Nurseries, which had operations in Aldergrove and in Lynden, Wash., was left with more than four million dead blueberry plants, said Prodor.
The loss of the plants also damaged nursery owner Jagjit Aujla's reputation as customers said they were no longer going to do business with him, said Prodor.
"It wasn't anything he did. He'd been doing it for years with great success (growing blueberry plants), and unfortunately this horrible disaster happened," he said.
Another Lower Mainland nursery, DeZwaan Nurseries in Pitt Meadows, B.C., which had a crop of Japanese maple trees destroyed, was awarded a much smaller amount, $241,000 in damages, according to the jury verdict in the County of Multnomah circuit court for the State of Oregon.
The two nursery owners — who were on hand for the jury verdict in Portland, Ore. — were jubilant, said their lawyer, Joseph Prodor.
"They were pretty relieved," said Prodor from Portland where the case is getting significant media attention.
Prodor said he expects the fertilizer companies to appeal the decision, a process he estimates could take another two years. Prodor said that J.R.T. Nurseries switched to a new fertilizer in 2007 — Multicote 15-19-12 — produced by Sun Gro Horticulture, which has U.S. and Canadian operations, and blended by Wilbur-Ellis Company, headquartered in California. It damaged plants in 2007 and 2008.
DeZwaan used the fertilizer in 2008, which damaged trees. The farmers argued that the fertilizer — which they learned included a micro nutrient ingredient not designed to be used in the horticulture and nursery business — was responsible for damaging the plants.
A jury found that Multicote 15-9-12 was "in a defective condition that was unreasonably dangerous to plaintiff's plants when it left Sun Gro's control." It also found the fertilizer was in a "defective" condition when it left Wilbur Ellis's control.
Sun Gro Horticulture was not saying Thursday whether they would appeal. "We're going to take some time to digest it before we make any decision about what we intend to do next. We will examine our options," said Sun Gro spokesman Derek Fee from Toronto.
Wilbur Ellis deferred questions to its lawyer, who wasn't immediately available for comment.