The families of two Illinois teens who died in a grain bin accident were awarded $8 million each after a jury ruled that the incident could have been prevented if their employer had followed proper safety protocols.
The accident in question occurred back in July 2010 when Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alejandro Pacas, 19, were helping transport corn onto a grain elevator at a Mount Carroll facility owned by Haasbach LLC. At some point during the process, Whitebread began sinking into the corn. Pacas tried to help his friend, but both men got caught in the sinkhole. Will Piper, 20, jumped in to try to save both teens, and he too became caught in the sinkhole. Whitebread and Pacas suffocated, and Piper was engulfed up to his neck for six hours, but he survived after co-workers came to his aid.
The jury deliberated for eight hours before awarding $16 million to the families of the deceased. Piper was awarded $875,000 for his injuries.
The families said they were glad that the jury held Haasbach LLC responsible for creating a hazardous work environment.
“The family is pleased not about the money, but that the company was held accountable, said attorney Kevin Durkin. “The 19-year-old could’ve been there if he was properly trained, but the 14-year-old should have never been there, obviously.”
A subsequent inspection in January 2011 cited Haasbach with 25 employee and maintenance violations, including:
- Failure to properly train young workers
- Failure to provide safety harnesses
- Failure to ensure machinery was turned off when not in use
- Lack of an emergency action plan
Another investigation found that Haasbach was in violation of child labor laws, which forbids companies from hiring workers under the age of 18 to preform hazardous jobs.
The company said it plans to appeal the court’s ruling.
Sean Sullivan comments
What ultimately led to the jury awarding such a large amount to the families of the victims in this case stems from what is referred to as punitive damages. In personal injury cases, these are the types of damages that result in large awards by juries.
Punitive damages are extra damages the jury can award in favor of the Plaintiff when the Defendant is shown to be extremely careless or exhibits no remorse over what happened. Judging by the claims that the company had multiple safety violations, the jury no doubt felt this tragedy could have been avoided if the proper safety measures were taken.
Related source: Chicago Tribune