Farmers sue for foot-and-mouth damages

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The Independent Online

A bid by a group of farmers to win damages over the 2007 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease should be stopped in its tracks, the High Court heard today.

The claimants are suing the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health Ltd, operators of the Pirbright laboratory in Surrey, as well as the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which licensed and regulated the facility.

The farmers say that their "serious, substantial and meritorious" claims should go to trial, claiming that the defendants are seriously culpable and that the common law ought to provide then with proper redress.

But, opening a bid to have the action "struck out" at a preliminary stage, Michael Beloff QC, for the IAH, said that the claims, which are based on negligence, nuisance and strict liability, offended "against all established principles of law".

The farmers say that they all suffered significant loss and damage after the virus allegedly leaked out of the drains at the site and infected nearby premises.

As soon as the outbreak was discovered, the government imposed measures preventing it being spread, including nationwide restrictions on movement of livestock.

Without admitting liability, IAH and Merial have settled the claims of seven claimants, who had farms adjacent to or nearby the site and had livestock slaughtered.

But, the defendants are continuing to resist claims by another seven, who did not lose livestock through slaughter but allege they suffered loss through complying with government measures.

Mr Beloff said that this constituted economic damage only, rather than physical damage, and would be beyond the scope of any duty owed by the defendants.

The hearing in London before Mr Justice Tugendhat is expected to last three days.