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Judge approves $55M settlement with robotic milker-maker

A federal judge has given final approval to a $55 million class-action settlement with a company alleged to have sold faulty robotic milking machines.

Following a July 11, Judge Stephen R. Bough issued a judgment on June 20 that finalized the agreement with Kansas City-based DeLaval Inc. and its related corporate entities. They did not admit fault.

DeLaval’s classic model Voluntary Milking System, or VMS, is an automatic milking system with a hydraulic robot arm that, guided by lasers and using a camera, was supposed to fully and reliably milk cows.

The lawsuit alleged DeLaval’s systems were defective and failed to perform as represented, yet farmers who discovered that the machine didn’t work as well as advertised could not upgrade it. Instead, they had to replace it with the company’s newer robotic system at great expense.

The nationwide class included 185 dairy farmers who installed the VMS system. According to court records, none of the class members requested exclusion and 87 submitted claims.

In an interview, Patrick Stueve of Stueve Siegel Hanson, the lead attorney for the class, said that while the class involved a relatively small group of consumers with relatively large damages, it would have been difficult for the individual dairy farmers to pursue suits on their own, as the case involved $1.2 million in up-front expenses.

Stueve is pursuing similar suits in other jurisdictions as well, but he said the point of the litigation is encourage the robot makers to improve their products.

“Hopefully, they stop using the farmers as tests,” he said.

The judge separately approved attorneys’ fees of about $18.3 million, representing one-third of the settlement amount.

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$55 million settlement

Class action

Venue: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri

Case Number/Date: 5:19-cv-06129/June 20, 2022

Judge: Stephen R. Bough

Mediator: Scott C. Hecht

Caption: Terry Bishop, Daniel Richards, Erin Richards, Rodney Naedler, Janeen Naedler, Chad Naedler, Aaron Naedler, Naedler Farms II, Bernard Robillard, Denise Robillard and Robillard Flat Farms Inc. v. DeLaval Inc., Tetra Laval Holdings BV, and DeLaval International AB

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Patrick J. Stueve, Bradley T. Wilders, Jillian R. Dent and K. Ross Merrill, Stueve Siegel Hanson, Kansas City; Arend Tensen, Cullenberg & Ternsen, Lebanon, New Hampshire; Daniel C. Perrone, Perrone Law Staten Island, New York

Defendants’ Attorneys: Robert T. Adams, Lynn H. Murray, Gregory K. Wu, Peter F. O’Neill and Anna A. El-Zein, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Kansas City