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Farmer's suit claims silos are defective

December 17, 1997

Farmer's suit claims silos are defective

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

A Hagerstown farmer has filed suit against a Milwaukee-based company, claiming it leased faulty grain silos and other equipment that cost him $2 million.

In the suit, filed last week in Washington County Circuit Court, Bruce N. Hoffman & Sons Inc. alleges that A.O. Smith Corp. made false claims about feed grain storage silos, unloaders and a slurrystore.

The silos, known as the Harvestore system, are glass-lined steel structures designed to store animal feed. According to allegations contained in the suit, the company made several false claims about the silos, including:

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* They were oxygen-free.

* They reduced or prevented oxygen from coming in contact with the stored feed.

* They prevented spoilage of animal feed stored in the system.

Hoffman leased the equipment between 1986 and 1988, but the suit contends that equipment did not reliably provide an oxygen-free or oxygen-limiting environment.

The suit, which also names two subsidiaries of A.O. Smith and an authorized dealer of Harvestore equipment, alleges that the company knew the claims about the product were false.

"As the complaint reflects, there are allegations that these representations were false at the time they were made," said Mark Thomas, an attorney for Hoffman. "I think it's pretty much as it appears in the complaint."

Because the product did not live up to its billing, Hoffman suffered damage to his feed, which in turn reduced milk production of his dairy cows, the suit alleged.

The complaint also seeks reimbursement for attorneys' fees and compensation for emotional distress.

Total loss is estimated in the suit at $2 million.

Edward J. O'Connor, vice president for human resources and public affairs at A.O. Smith, suggested the suit has more to do with Hoffman's failure to live up to the terms of the lease.

"We had three leases with the Hoffmans on pieces of farm equipment. They failed to make payments on those The lawsuit has been somewhat motivated by action that we took," he said.

O'Connor said the company has sold or leased thousands of pieces of Harvestore equipment with few complaints.

"We have no concerns about the integrity of the product or how it has performed," he said.

O'Connor said that the farm has used the equipment.

"These things have been in there - they've been using them for some time," he said.

But the suit contends that the 365-day period contained in the warrant "is not a reasonable period of time in which to discover latent design defects such as those found in the Harvestore Equipment."

The complaint says that the warranty provides for the replacement of defective parts. But the suit alleges that the problem lies with the design.

"Providing replacement parts simply perpetuates the defects. The limitation on remedies contained in the written warranty is therefore unconscionable," the suit states.

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