Dairy Industry, Rural banks ask Wisconsin Supreme Court to Review Stray Voltage Case

Wisconsin’s dairy industry and a group of rural banks are asking the state Supreme Court to uphold a jury’s decision to award more than $13 million to a Trempealeau County farmer in what would be the state’s largest stray voltage settlement.

In August 2017, a jury found that Northern States Power Co., or NSP, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, was negligent and failed to follow state regulations, causing more than $4 million in losses for Paul Halderson and his wife, Lyn, who operate a nearly 1,000-cow dairy farm near Galesville.

The Haldersons claimed their herd suffered from illness and decreased milk production for more than a decade because of improperly grounded power lines.

The jury awarded the Haldersons about $4.5 million, finding deliberate violation of statute, which would entitle the Haldersons to triple damages. But Judge Scott Horne later overruled the “wanton and willful” finding on the grounds that Xcel conducted multiple tests on the Halderson farm but failed to find unacceptable levels of stray voltage.

A higher court denied the Haldersons’ appeal, upholding Horne’s decision, saying “the evidence at trial was insufficient for a reasonable jury to find, by clear and convincing evidence, that NSP’s conduct was willful, wanton, or reckless.” The appeals court also denied Xcel’s request for a new trial.

The Haldersons are now asking the Supreme Court to review the case, which they say hinges on an issue “of compelling statewide importance.”

Stray voltage refers to current that leaks from neutral wires into the earth. Animals that come into contact with a grounded object — such as a watering trough — can receive small shocks. This can cause dairy cattle to avoid eating, become stressed and generally produce less milk, according to research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.