Injured Farm Workers Receive Justice

Workplace accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report of two recent lawsuits brought forth by farm workers severely injured in accidents involving farming machinery. One case settled for $1 million, and the second worker was awarded nearly $650,000 by a jury.

One lawsuit involved a 17-year-old volunteer farm worker who suffered serious leg and knee injuries after his leg was crushed by a 4,000 pound cherry catcher when it rolled down a hill. The machine is a specially-designed automotive tractor operated by a single driver. The plaintiff argued that he was not properly trained by the farm’s management, and that the brakes on the tractor, which was 30 years old, were not properly maintained.

To prove the tractor was defective and liable for the accident, the plaintiff had the machine inspected by a Michigan State University agricultural engineering professor, who testified that the brake system should have stopped on the hillside if it was working properly. The farm’s mechanic also testified that the machine broke down twice in 2010, rolling downhill in a similar fashion that injured the plaintiff, and should have been replaced after the 2010 harvest.

The plaintiff was awarded more than $130,000 in past and future medical expenses and over $500,000 in noneconomic damages. The lawsuit was filed in Cherry County, Michigan, where the economy is dominated by the farming industry. The verdict is the largest jury-awarded amount in the county’s history.

The second case was filed by 57-year-old Robert Ramirez Lopez, a former farm worker and machinery operator from California. Lopez started working at the job site only three days prior to the accident, which mangled his left arm, rendering it almost entirely useless. The accident occurred in 2009, when Lopez was trying to push a lodged watermelon through a machine at a produce cooling facility. The machine’s dumping mechanism kicked in and crushed his left arm.

Lopez was a contracted farm laborer through VMJ Professional Services, which placed him on the job at Double D Farms, an organic produce grower near Coalinga. The machine that injured Lopez was used in the watermelon harvesting process, and had a defective automated system that caused watermelons to get lodged in the conveyor belt an estimated 50 times per day.

Every time a watermelon became stuck, workers would have to reach into the machine and tap out the melon with their bare hands. On Lopez’s third day, as he was dislodging a stuck watermelon, an unknowing co-worker switched on the dumping function on the machine, causing severe damage to Lopez’s arm.

Lopez required immediate surgery and will never again be able to perform manual labor. He has only an 11th-grade education, so this severely limits his earning potential for the rest of his life. He sued TMJMB Holdings, the company responsible for the design, maintenance, and manufacture of the watermelon machine, TMJ Professional Services, and Double D Farms. Two weeks before the case was set for trial, the companies agreed to settle with Lopez for $1 million.

According to the CDC, the agriculture industry ranks among the most hazardous for workers in the country. Farmers are at an extremely high risk of both fatal and non-fatal injuries, as more than 475 farming deaths are reported each year. About 230,000 minor children, such as the Michigan injured, are hired to work on farms each year. The leading sources of fatal injury on farms include machinery, motor vehicles, and drowning. Every day, nearly 250 Americans suffer injuries that cause them to lose work time and wages.

Accident and injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight the increased danger of working in the agriculture industry, and urge anyone involved in the industry to check out the agriculture safety and health goals outlined in the National Occupational Research Agenda. If you or someone you love was injured on the job and suffered serious injuries, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering.

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