Year after year, agricultural employers in Illinois put farm workers in danger. According to NPR, at least 498 people have suffocated in grain bins since 1964 and many have just barely escaped death.The case that has gotten the most attention recently is a July 2010 case. In that case, a fourteen year old was working his first real job in a grain storage complex with a nineteen year old and a twenty year old.
The grain bin where the boys were working was four stories tall. It was filled with 250,000 bushels of wet corn. The boy’s job was to “walk down the grain,” which meant breaking up those kernels that stuck to the walls and blocked the drainage hole at the bottom of the bin. This is an illegal practice. However grain storage in the U.S. is a booming business.
That morning, the fourteen year old and his fellow workers started sinking in the corn and began suffocating. After six hours, only one of the boys was brought out alive. The fourteen year old was not even old enough to legally work in the bin. There had been no safety training provided to the boys and none of them was warned about the dangers of walking down the grain and breaking up corn. They were only told “Control the corn” and “Don’t let the corn control you.”
Because this was was a workplace accident, OSHA came out to the site. It levied $555,555 fine, which is one of the largest fines it has given to a grain incident case. Later the fine was reduced by over half. However, nobody went to jail. Fatal grain accidents are common and criminal prosecutions of them are rare.
Twenty-six people died in this type of grain entrapment in 2010. Twenty percent of the 946 people who have been trapped this way were under 18. According to Dave Newcomb who teaches grain bin safety at the Illinois Fire Service Institute, the kernels cling together and push against those who “walk the grain” like quicksand. He said, “If you’re trapped in grain up to the waist, it takes over 600 pounds of force plus your body weight to free you from the grain.” Silos filled with wheat and soybeans can also become death traps.
The parents of the youngest boy brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the employer and the company that leased the facility at the time of the accident, as did people related to the other two boys. The employer only paid $200,000 for the OSHA violations in connection with the accident.
Employers owe their employees the obligation to maintain safe conditions in the workplace, no matter what type of workplace it is. A worker who is injured on the job is entitled to reasonable medical treatment, disability pay, and compensation for injuries. Sometimes someone who is hurt at work may also have a claim against a third party (such as the owner of the property in the silo case described above).
The process of making injury claims against multiple parties can be complex and you should hire an attorney experienced in work injuries and wrongful death to help you. Call the hardworking attorneys at Abels & Annes, P.C. a call at (312) 924-7575 to discuss your rights. Our caring Chicago personal injury lawyers are available 24 hours per day, seven days of the week. For a free consultation with a capable advocate, please contact Abels & Annes, P.C. through the law firm’s website.
Note: Abels & Annes, P.C. did not represent the victims in the above described case.
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