An Illinois truck driver who fell off a broken ladder while loading produce at a farm warehouse in Colorado was awarded $655,000 last week by a Denver federal jury.
According to the Denver Post
, the 12-member panel found Piedmont Farms was 100% liable for the driver's injuries after reasoning the company had to have known the ladder, attached to the wall of a warehouse loading dock, was defective.
Piedmont Farms -- the state's largest organic farming operation -- argued during the two-day trial that no problems had been reported about the ladder before the accident.
Piedmont attorneys said the plaintiff, who fell after one of the ladder's horizontal rungs broke under his weight, should have exercised more caution while descending at night.
Plaintiff attorney Geoffrey Race said the October 1997 accident left his 58-year-old client, Martin Salminen, with a split knee cap and injured back.
Race said Salminen rejected a $65,000 settlement offer last year from Piedmont's insurer, Colorado Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co.
Denver attorney Bernard Woessner, who represented Piedmont Farms, said Peidmont is considering an appeal.
Said Race: "The reason they didn't settle is because they didn't think we could prove without any direct evidence that Piedmont knew the ladder was dangerous."
Under the Colorado Premises Liability Act, which gives special consideration to agricultural landowners, the burden of proof fell on Salminen to show Piedmont knowingly provided an unsafe ladder to workplace visitors.
Race said the Colorado liability law generally isn't as strict on non-agricultural property owners, who can be held legally responsible for accidents stemming from unsafe conditions that the owners may not have known existed.
Salminen's July 1998 lawsuit alleged the ladder was bent and had been in a "general state of disrepair" too long for Piedmont's safety workers to not notice.
"We had photographs showing the ladder was bent," Race said. "We showed there were 600 trucks that went in and out of that dock, and that Piedmont folks were pretty much there all the time."
The jury determined that Saliminen should be awarded $305,000 in economic damages for income he lost while recovering from his injuries, $166,000 for pain and suffering, and $64,200 for physical impairment to his knee.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch also added prejudgment interest of nearly $120,000.