Insurance Provider Seeks to Drop Farmers in Idaho

November 8, 2004

An insurance company has asked a judge to rule that it does not have to represent two farmers who are being sued by opponents of field burning.

State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. filed the insurance lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court. State Farm claims it has no duty to represent its clients – northern Idaho farmers Clarence Haeg and Philip Lampert – in complaints about agricultural burning.

Haeg and Lampert were among dozens of farmers who were defendants in lawsuits in state and federal court seeking to halt field burning. They could not be immediately reached for comment.

Two cases the insurance company said it should not have to defend have been decided in favor of the farmers.

In one, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that state law exempting agricultural burning from claims of nuisance and trespass is constitutional.

After that ruling, a class-action lawsuit filed against farmers on behalf of people with breathing difficulties was dismissed in 1st District Court.

At least two other insurance companies are claiming in state courts that their policies do not cover claims about field smoke.

Some North Idaho bluegrass farmers burn straw and stubble after seed harvest to prepare the fields for the next year’s crop. The practice promotes early plant growth and enhances seed yields. But clean-air advocates argue it’s a threat to public health.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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