Florida Sugarcane Burning

DEFENDANT NAME: Florida Crystals Corporation, Sugar Can Growers Cooperation of Florida, United States Sugar Corporation, Flo-Sun Incorporated, American Sugar Refining Inc., Okeelanta Corporation, Osceola Farms Co, Sugarland Harvesting Co., Trucane Sugar Corporation, Independent Harvesting Inc., King Ranch Inc., J&J AH Products Inc., Does 1-50
CASE NUMBER: 9:19-cv-80730-DMM
COURT: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida
STATUS: Active
DATE FILED: 06/04/19
Steve W. BermanTed Wojcik

Do you live in an area of Florida affected by toxic smoke and ash ("black snow") created by the sugar industry's sugarcane burning?
We believe the sugar industry should be held responsible for damages to your property and community, and must stop damaging your health. Fill out the form to find out your rights to potential compensation »

Hagens Berman has filed a class-action lawsuit against the sugar industry's largest entities on behalf of residents of various areas and townships of Florida that have long suffered from the corporations' wildly hazardous and damaging methods of harvesting sugarcane. Affected areas include south and east of Lake Okeechobee and the towns of Belle Glade, South Bay, Pahokee, Clewiston, Moore Haven and others.

The lawsuit states that this outdated method of harvesting has wreaked havoc on these Florida communities, causing damage to business and residential property, damage to residents' health and other economic damage and general nuisance.


The Florida sugar industry employs a wildly archaic method of harvesting sugarcane that brings devastating toxic smoke and ash, often called “black snow,” raining onto poor Florida communities for six months of the year. The lawsuit's defendants, commonly known as Big Sugar, farm sugarcane on approximately 400,000 acres in the area south and southeast of Lake Okeechobee. From October through March, they conduct continuous pre-harvest burns on 40-80 acre tracts of land at a time, emitting billows of thick black smoke and a stench into the air, and causing small pieces of black ash to rain down. This ash covers residents' property, infiltrates their homes, and greatly affects air quality and quality of life.

A review of the annual burn maps demonstrates that the burns disproportionately affect the poorer communities.

The black snow is known to travel for miles from the area of the burn, and discolors cars, homes, and office buildings. Many local homes must be pressure washed annually.

Alternative, environmentally friendly harvesting methods (green harvesting) not only exist, but have been in use for more than three decades in many parts of the world – even resulting in greater yields from sugarcane fields in Brazil, where green harvesting has been mandated for over ten years. Still, defendants claim pre-harvest burning allows them to make more money, despite studies demonstrating green harvesting's ability to actually improve profits and yields after a brief adjustment period, and better preserve soil for future crops.


Defendants’ pre-harvest burning causes pollutants, including smoke, particulate matter, dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, elemental carbon and organic carbon, to migrate onto and contaminate residents’ property, and exposes residents to these pollutants for extended periods of time.

Many of these pollutants are classified by IARC as possible human carcinogens. Defendants’ toxic ash and smoke causes medical problems among residents of affected communities, including respiratory conditions like asthma. A 2015 study on the island of Maui found a significantly higher incidence of respiratory distress in smoke-exposed regions when greater amounts of acres were burned.

Big Sugar knows well that the Florida communities most affected by this black snow of chemical pollutants are unable to fight against it. We believe it's time to make the sugar industry change its ways and pay for the damage it has caused to the people of Florida.


Hagens Berman seeks reimbursement for the Florida sugar industry's actions, which have damaged the health and property of local residents, as well as repayment for other economic losses and general nuisance. The lawsuit also seeks an injunction banning the archaic practice of pre-harvest burning. Our firm believes that these Florida communities deserve compensation for the greed and wrongdoing of Big Sugar.


Hagens Berman is one of the most successful consumer litigation law firms in the U.S. and has achieved more than $260 billion in settlements for consumers in lawsuits against food corporations, automakers, big banks and others. Hagens Berman has taken on various agricultural industries and recently finalized a settlement against the dairy industry, securing $52 million for the public. Your claim will be handled by experts in representing communities and groups of individuals against major corporations and industries.


There is no cost or fee whatsoever involved in joining this action. In the event Hagens Berman or any other firm obtains a settlement that provides benefits to class members, the court will decide a reasonable fee to be awarded to the class' legal team. In no case will any class member ever be asked to pay any out-of-pocket sum.

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