published on February 25, 2016 - 12:58 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
At a press conference held Thursday afternoon outside the B.F. Sisk Courthouse in Downtown Fresno, a lawyer representing the owner of Black Fence Farm in Clovis announced his legal team had filed a lawsuit against Goshen-based Western Milling, the manufacturer of horse feed reportedly linked to the recent deaths of more than a dozen horses around the Valley.

The suit, filed Wednesday in Superior Court, seeks unspecified punitive damages on behalf of Katie Flanigan, owner of Black Fence Farm and more than a dozen horse owners whose animals ate the contaminated feed while boarding at her facility.

Lawyers Andrew B. Yaffa, of Miami-based Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, and Sean Simpson, of San Diego-based Simpson Law Group, are representing the horse owners.

“This feed is still being sold and we are concerned that other horse and livestock owners may be at risk,” Simpson said. “The need for public awareness is urgent. People need to know about this poisoned food.”

Flanigan and a half dozen area horse owners whose animals ate the tainted feed joined Simpson at today’s press conference.

Black Fence Farm is a horse training and boarding facility where, in September 2015, dozens of horses were sickened and 13 eventually died after eating Western Blend horse feed sold by Western Milling.

Flanigan subsequently had the horse feed tested by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and investigators concluded it was contaminated with monensin, a supplement included in hog and poultry feed that can be fatal if ingested by horses.

“Horses poisoned with monensin suffer permanent damage,” Flanigan said at Thursday’s press conference. “If they don’t die, they can never be ridden again.”

Flanigan said test results revealed 112 grams of monensin per ton of feed. At the time of the poisoning, she had been boarding 50 horses at her facility and said all of the animals ate feed from the tainted lot.

“These horses are the backbone of my business,” Flanigan said. Half of the 40 horses she is currently boarding remain sickened by the tainted feed.

Since the initial incident last fall in Clovis, a number of sick horses at a facility in Temecula have also been linked to the tainted feed but none of those horses have died. Simpson and Yaffa are also representing the owners of that facility in a separate suit against Western Milling.

Western Milling has not made any pubic statements about the issue but has issued a voluntary recall of the company’s 50-pound bags of its Western Blend feed from Lot 5251. According to information released by the company, the recalled product was manufactured on September 8, 2015 and distributed to feed stores in California and Arizona.

Western Milling has also set up a special phone line (559-302-1062) to field inquiries regarding the recalled product.

Los Angeles-based legal firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith is reportedly representing Western Milling in the suit.

Simpson and Flanigan suspect that the poisonings were a result of cross contamination while the bags of feed were being packed at Western Milling’s facility in Goshen.

Their lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

“We’re asking for fair and reasonable damages,” Simpson said. “I’m a horse lover too and it’s heart breaking to hear the details of how these horses suffered and died.”

“Hopefully, this [lawsuit] will send a message to Western Milling that they can’t do this,” Simpson added. “They put a defective product on the market and people lost their animals.”

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