Couple awarded nearly $3M after blueberry crop destroyed at foreclosed farm they bought

CBC 3 weeks ago

When Malkiat and Satwant Baring were preparing to buy a 60-acre (24-hectare) farm in Langley, B.C., in July 2017, "the blueberry bushes were laden with ripening fruit," according to a decision released Monday by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Gomery.

The couple planned to immediately harvest the berries, but by the time they took ownership of the foreclosed farm, the produce was nearly all ruined — the fields destroyed by the herbicide Roundup.

The Barings took the previous owners of the $5.5-million farm, brothers Zora and Harminder Grewal, to court. And they won — they've been awarded nearly $3 million in the case.

In his ruling dated Nov. 15, Gomery describes a "vindictive" act carried out by the Grewal brothers in the days leading up to the completion of the sale. He called the spraying of the herbicide wilful and malicious.

The defendants denied spraying herbicide on the crop, and entered no evidence in the case.

But Gomery concluded that nobody else plausibly could have killed the plants.

"The only apparent motive was vindictive," wrote Gomery. "They pointlessly destroyed an entire crop of blueberries and the damage done to the plants will be felt for more than a decade."

'A ruse to avoid suspicion'

"Who sprayed the herbicides on the blueberry field?" asks Gomery in his decision. "The timing and circumstances of the spraying point in the direction of Zora and Harminder Grewal."

Gomery said the Grewals were the only ones who had assured access to the farm and to the large quantities of water required to make the 15,000 litres of herbicide solution sprayed on the fields.

They had access to the tractor and sprayer and had used the equipment in the days before the sale was completed to apply a pesticide, malathion, on the fields.

"I agree with the plaintiffs' counsel that spraying malathion in the afternoon was a ruse to avoid suspicion," wrote Gomery, saying it was likely that the brothers continued spraying the fields into the night, but began applying the blueberry-killing Roundup once the pesticide spraying was complete.

The question of motive

"The most troubling aspect of the evidence is the question of motive," said Gomery. "Why would the defendants do such a thing? This only takes one so far. Why would anyone do such a thing? — yet someone did."

According to the ruling, Harminder Grewal had tried to talk Satwant Baring out of buying the house a week before the final sale, in what Gomery called a warning — if not a threat.

Grewal told Baring that there was a dispute among the Grewals, including a third brother, and that "it is bad to get involved in somebody else's dispute."

'Their just deserts'

Gomery awarded the Barings $2,796,400 in a price abatement for the farm, based on the loss of revenue for the damaged crops, the cost to rehabilitate the farm, and expected future losses until 2028.

He also granted the plaintiffs punitive damages.

"In my judgment, an award of $150,000 is sufficient to denounce the defendants' misconduct and give them their just deserts," said the judge.

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