Farmer sues over cow trauma, case backfires

Judy Smith, Freeport, cow farm
An undated courtesy photo of Judy Smith's cows on her Freeport Farm.


FREEPORT, Mich. (WOOD) — A Freeport farmer sought more than $60,000 in damages after she says fireworks set off nearby traumatized her cows and all but destroyed her farm operation — bug now she’s the one on the hook for her opponents’ costs.

Judy Smith has owned Pinecrest Farms on County Line Road in the village of Freeport for about 30 years. She successfully raised cows for dairy and beef as part of her business, she said.

Smith said everything changed in September 2010 when the village allowed a special fireworks show near her property. She said the explosions caused her cows to stampede.

“Total chaos,” she told 24 Hour News 8, describing the night of the fireworks. “Total chaos.”

Smith claimed the damage to her cows was permanent. She said some were injured in the stampede and others’ milk production decreased.

“It destroyed the cows and that’s my sole income — their mental state, you know,” Smith explained. “I’ve worked for 30 years trying to build something and it was destroyed in one night.”

The ordeal prompted Smith to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit against Freeport and the company that set off the fireworks, among other entities. She said the fireworks invaded her property when they were set off in a way that put them over her cattle.

The case dragged on for years. A Barry County judge dismissed it after delays on the part of Smith and her attorney and problems in how the case was filed. Attorneys for Smith took the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals, where judges upheld the Barry County judge’s ruling.

And the appeals judges made things worse for Smith. They ruled she should pay money to the parties she sued to cover their legal expenses. That amount totaled more than $30,000.

When Smith refused to pay, the attorney for the man who set off the fireworks requested and obtained an order allowing him to seize some of her property to cover the costs. Smith said she will instead write a check to pay the money she owes.

“They file and want money,” Smith said. “I’ve been dumped on twice now.”

The attorney for the man who set off the fireworks says his client is the one who was damaged. Attorney Tim Tromp, who has been in practice for nearly 30 years, called the case the “craziest I’ve ever seen.”

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of cows being physically and mentally damaged by fireworks,” Tromp said. “I’ve never heard of that.”

Smith shut down her dairy operation, though she continues to run her farm. She says paying the attorney’s fees will deplete the money she earned this year, forcing her to tap into life insurance money she collected after the death of her husband.

Tromp said this represents a fair ending to the case. Smith said she still wants justice.

“I never seen my day in court,” Smith said.