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Pitt Meadows & Langley nurseries part of landmark U.S. lawsuit

Cedar shrubs at JRT Nurseries in Langley. The plants on the left were fertilized with a Multicote 17-10-10 and the plants on the left were fertilized with Multicote 15-9-12. - Contributed
Cedar shrubs at JRT Nurseries in Langley. The plants on the left were fertilized with a Multicote 17-10-10 and the plants on the left were fertilized with Multicote 15-9-12.
— image credit: Contributed

A Pitt Meadows nursery that had its trees killed by a toxic fertilizer has been awarded part of what is believed to be the largest settlement of it kind Wednesday by an Oregon State civil court.

American fertilizer company Sun Gro Horticulture and agri-business giant Wilbur-Ellis were ordered to pay close to $40 million to DeZwaan Nurseries of Pitt Meadows and JRT Nurseries of Langley, in what is believed to be the largest product liability settlement ever awarded to a Canadian company, according to DeZwaan Nurseries’ lawyer Joseph Prodor.

JRT and DeZwaan nurseries had been seeking a total of $40.2 million.

According to court documents filed with the Oregon court, both nurseries bought Sun Gro’s fertilizer product called Multicote 15-9-12, which contained ingredients not designed to be used in the horticulture and nursery business.

As a result, the fertilizer damaged crops, killing some and stunting others.

DeZwaan Nurseries grows ornamental Japanese maple trees, and was seeking $800,000 in damages.

The majority of the settlement went to JRT Nurseries in Langley, with DeZwaan being awarded close to $400,000.

Woodburn Fertilizer, a division of agri-business giant Wilbur-Ellis, manufactured, sold, and distributed the Multicote 15-9-12 product used by Sun Gro, and sold Sun Gro the ingredients not intended for use in horticultural applications.

In the case of damages sustained by DeZwaan nurseries, the court found Sun Gro to be 85 per cent at fault , while Wilbur-Ellis was 15 per cent.

The court ruled the fertilizer was “unreasonably dangerous” and both Sun Gro and Wilbur-Ellis breached warranties they had made to the product’s effectiveness.

DeZwaan Nurseries owner Eelco de Zwaan said he was forced to sell his nursery as a result of the bad fertilizer.

“We lost a whole year’s crop,” he said.

De Zwaan said Multicote 15-9-12 was marketed as a controlled-release fertilizer, but it contained ingredients that were immediately released, damaging his crop of maple trees.

De Zwaan said he expects Sun Gro and Wilbur-Ellis to appeal the verdict.

“By the time it’s all done, I don’t think I’ll see any of the money because of lawyer fees,” he said.

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