RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal jury Thursday awarded more than $50 million in damages to neighbors of an industrial hog operation found responsible for intense smells, noise and other disturbances so bad people couldn’t enjoy their rural homes.

Jurors on Thursday awarded the 10 neighbors of a 15,000-head swine operation a total of $750,000 in compensation, plus $50 million in damages designed to punish the corporation that owns the animals.

Lawyers didn’t sue the Bladen County farm’s owner, instead targeting the hog-production division of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods. The Chinese-owned company uses strict contracts to dictate how farm operators raise livestock that Smithfield owns.

The decision is the first in dozens of lawsuits filed by more than 500 neighbors complaining about hog operations.

Jurors decided that “the defendant owed (neighbors) a standard of care in terms of trying to minimize the odors and other undesirable fallout from their processes,” said Wake Forest University law professor Sidney Shapiro, who has followed the cases. “Apparently the jury decided (Smithfield) knew about and disregarded all this fallout even though they could do something positive to reduce it.”

Rural residents have complained about smells, clouds of flies and excessive spraying for decades.

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