Last fall, Tunbridge dairy farmers' cows fell ill after ingesting the stainless steel wire found in their feed. They have sued the telecommunications company they believe is responsible.
The complaint of Amber and Scott Hoyt was filed by Arend Tensen, an attorney from Cullenberg & Tensen, New Hampshire, and included four defendants: Eustis Cable Enterprises, ValleyNet, ECFiber, and Crammer O'Connors Fiber Genesis.
It accused these parties of negligence, nuisance, trespass and consumer fraud, and demanded punitive damages and a jury trial. It was submitted on November 5 and delivered on November 18.
You will never miss a report that contains our daily headlines in your inbox.
In a statement, ECFiber chairman FX Flinn stated that the telecommunications company has been trying to “resolve the matter, determine responsibility, and ensure that those responsible are held accountable” for months. He expressed disappointment that the Hoyt couple continued to file a lawsuit.
ECFiber officials said in a statement: "Attorney Tensen's decision to file a lawsuit at this sensitive time coincides with the parties and their respective carriers coming to the negotiating table in good faith, which may greatly delay the settlement of Hoyts' claim." Released on Friday.
Donna McCann, a Cullenberg & Tensen legal assistant representing Hoyts, said the company “currently does not comment on our decision to file a lawsuit.” Amber and Scott Hoyt also declined to comment on the lawsuit.
For the Hoyt couple, this issue is still unresolved. They previously told VTDigger that this situation may be critical to their farm. Three cows died after ingesting iron wire, and more than 70 cows were exposed to contaminated feed.
In August, the farmers learned that their insurance claim was rejected because the subcontractor who was doing the work at that time was not fully insured.
ECFiber is a communications alliance area serving the Upper River Valley and has been committed to expanding broadband in the area. The region hired a contractor Eustis Cable to help with the work, and Eustis hired a subcontractor Crammer O'Connors Fiber Genesis, whose workers used stainless steel lashing wires to "tie one or more cables between the phone lines." The complaint alleges that the Hoyts couple had electric poles in the field where they were harvesting hay. ValleyNet operates this line.
The complaint alleges that Crammer O'Connors Fiber Genesis worked in Tunbridge for five days in the fall of 2019 and that it was “the lashing line that Crammer’s installers discarded or left in the field”.
Then, in September 2020, the Hoyt couple found broken wires like needles in their cow feed, which was a mixture of hay from several fields. It seems that the choppers that mowed their fields inadvertently grounded the hay.
The Hoyts have taken standard measures to prevent so-called "hardware diseases," which affect farm animals that inadvertently ingest metal or other farm equipment. Their chopper is equipped with a metal detector that can collect metal fragments, and cows will swallow a magnet that is harmlessly placed in their stomach to collect stray hardware that they may have ingested.
But the kind of stainless steel wire found in the field is not magnetic, so it missed the farmers' protective measures.
Since December of last year, some cows have experienced symptoms that Hoyts had never seen before: sudden nosebleeds, signs of discomfort, large numbers of aborted calves, and decreased milk production. The Hoyts and their veterinarian performed an autopsy on the dead cows and pulled wires from their bodies. More than 70 people ate the contaminated feed.
The complaint stated: “Because the feed was damaged in the fall of 2019, the plaintiff’s herd was exposed to the feed, and everyone was at risk of death or injury.”
According to the complaint, the losses suffered by the Hoyts include the cost of replacing contaminated feed, reduced milk production, veterinary services, time spent caring for sick cows and investigating problems, damage to the fields, and reduced value of the herd.
"Due to witnessing the damage caused by their dairy herd and operations, unable to control the many problems encountered in their operations, and making extraordinary efforts to try to correct these problems, the plaintiff suffered personal injury and severe emotional stress," the complaint said .
ECFiber's statement stated that the school district hopes to resolve the issue before Christmas this year.
Stay up to date with all criminal justice news in Vermont. Sign up here to receive an email every week with all VTDigger reports on courts and crimes.
Emma Cotton is a report by a member of the US Army Corps, with special attention to issues of importance to Southern Vermont. She previously worked as a reporter for Addison Independent, covering political, business, artistic and environmental issues. She has also served as an assistant editor for Vermont Sports Magazine and VT Ski Ride. Emma majored in science journalism at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she was the editor-in-chief of Current. She won first prize for environmental reporting from the New England Newspapers and Press Association for a series of reports on agriculture and water quality in Addison County.
View all stories of Emma Cotton
VTDigger is now accepting letters to the editor. For information about our guidelines and access to the letter form, please click here.
Don't miss the best VTDiger
Support high-quality investigative journalism while helping to deal with food insecurity issues.