National Class-Action Law Firm Hagens Berman Joins Sugarcane Burning “Black Snow” Lawsuit on Behalf of Florida Communities

Award-winning law firm with track record of major court victories joins fight against Florida’s Big Sugar over toxic air pollution and ash

MIAMI – National heavyweight law firm Hagens Berman has joined a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of Florida residents subjected to toxic ash and air pollution – often referred to as “black snow” – produced by outdated and environmentally unsound methods of harvesting sugarcane implemented by Florida’s multibillion dollar sugar industry.

The law firm has a long history of opposing major corporations and well-established industries for acts of fraud, negligence and other wrongdoing, returning record-breaking settlements to the public.

“For half of the year, Florida’s sugar industry is subjecting the people of Florida to toxic air and black snow ash solely for the sake of higher profits,” said Steve Berman, co-founder and managing partner of Hagens Berman. “These major food corporations are fully willing to degrade the environment and the health and wellbeing of these communities to sweeten their own pot, and we are fully willing to hold them accountable for their actions, which we believe violate federal and state laws.”

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.

“Hagens Berman began 25 years ago taking on Big Tobacco for the public nuisance it created, and we intend to hold Big Sugar accountable for the public nuisance of black snow,” he added.

The suit claims that hazardous “black snow” produced by the Florida sugar industry covers and discolors residents’ property, infiltrates their homes and has lasting health effects, including respiratory conditions such as asthma.

If you live in an area of Florida affected by toxic smoke and ash created by the sugar industry's sugarcane burning, find out your rights »

The lawsuit 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 nuisance. The lawsuit also seeks an injunction banning the archaic practice of pre-harvest burning, as well as a medical monitoring program financed by the suit’s defendants.


Attorneys say 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, and residents’ quality of life is greatly diminished.

It affects the communities south and east of Lake Okeechobee and the towns of Belle Glade, South Bay, Pahokee, Clewiston, Moore Haven and others for six months out of the year, according to the complaint. Florida is home to roughly 400,000 acres of sugarcane fields, about 90 percent of which are located in western Palm Beach County. A review of the annual burn maps demonstrates the burns disproportionately affect poorer communities, unable to confront the corporations responsible, the suit states.

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, attorneys say.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, many of these pollutants are possible human carcinogens.

Find out more about the class-action lawsuit against Florida’s sugar industry.

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About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with nine offices across the country. The firm’s tenacious drive for plaintiffs’ rights has earned it numerous national accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.

Media Contact
Ashley Klann


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