Dangerous Condition at Rice Mill Causes Serious Injury to Miller

Synopsis

Plaintiff's Allegations

In the early morning dark hours of May 30, 2008, 28 year-old G.N. was severely injured when he fell into an uncovered auger while working as a rice miller in Woodland, California. At the time, G.N. was performing his job duty to check the level of rice hulls in a hull bin to make sure the bin was not filled to capacity. The only path to check the bin led G.N. over a 33" high auger housing to reach the view portal to the bin, located on the other side. Unknown to G.N. at the time, the auger housing cover was missing. As he swing himself up onto the auger and attempted to cross over, his legs fell into the open auger where they were caught and macerated by the rotating screw conveyor.

G.N. filed suit against the mill property owners, Pacific Basin Milling, LLC, Joseph A. Heidrick, Jr., Suzanne P. Heidrick, Jeffrey B. Barnes, and Kay V. Barnes alleging that the landowners did not provide safe access, such as a catwalk, over the dangerous auger. Additionally, G.N. filed suit against Frontier Ag. Co., Inc., and Matt Labriola who provided trucking services and rice hull removal for the mill because their truck was late, resulting in G.N. having to check the hull bin level.

Defendants' Allegations

Liability was contested. The landowner defendants' alleged that they were not at fault because they delegated the duty to maintain the premises in a safe condition to G.N.'s employer by way of a triple net leaseback agreement. They also claimed G.N.'s employer was at fault because the employer's maintenance crew had left the cover off the auger. Defendants blamed G.N. for the incident because he did not bring his work-issued flashlight with him to check the hull bins. Defendants claimed that if G.N. had used his flashlight, he would have been able to see that the cover was missing and would have climbed over the housing in an alternative safe location.

The trucking defendants' alleged denied that their truck was not late on the date of the injury and denied that they owed a duty to G.N.

Injuries

As a result of the contact with the auger, G.N. suffered massive lacerations to his lower extremities and tibia/fibula fractures. His right peroneal nerve was severed and he sustained degloving injuries. The auger cut G.N.'s leg so deeply that the auger blade scraped the bone of his right tibia. He thereafter developed heterotrophic ossification of the right tibia which had to be surgically removed on visits August 3 and September 10, 2009. G.N. underwent several surgeries and endured a long rehabilitative process. Because of his leg injuries, he developed an altered gait, which led to back pain and mobility issues.

It was alleged that G.N. would require future care including medical, psychological and home care treatment for the rest of his life. Additionally, it was alleged that a future ankle fusion surgery would be necessary.

At the time of the incident, G.N. had been working as a miller. Due to his injuries and functional limitations, G.N.'s vocational consultant opined he would not return to work as a miller. G.N. was expected to be able to do part-time, sedentary work in the future.

Damages

G.N. required extensive medical care for his injuries, including surgical intervention, therapy, medications and pain management. The workers' compensation medical lien for past treatment was $406,777.34. The incident resulted in significant lost earnings and earning capacity. The workers' compensation indemnity lien was $361,877.71.

Result

G.N. settled with the defendants before trial for $1.1 million plus resolution of the workers' compensation benefits lien in the amount of $768,655.00, for a global benefit to the client of $1,868,655.00.