Zeferino Vasquez will never walk again. In 2010 he was working at OR/PAC Feed and Forage when suddenly he was pinned against a hay bale slicer after entering the machine to remove a jam. His mid-torso was crushed to within a couple of inches and he is now paralyzed from the waist down. Vasquez, working with attorney Lourdes Sánchez and our team at Kafoury & McDougal, filed a lawsuit against Double Press Inc., the manufacturer of the machine. Three years after the injury our firm brought the case to trial and a jury awarded him $6.2 million on an 11 to 1 decision.
However, Mr. Vasquez’s situation is hardly a new one. In fact around 120,000 farm workers are injured each year according to The Farm Injury Resource Center. No matter their economic or immigration status all workers have the right to a fair and safe work place in the United States and when they are injured by unreasonably dangerous and unsafe equipment they deserve to be compensated.
Oftentimes, injuries occur when agricultural equipment and vehicles are poorly designed. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to create a product that not only does its job, but, as obvious as it sounds, is also safe to use. However, many manufacturers create machines that are extremely dangerous and fail to adequately secure the safety of their operators. The slicer that paralyzed Vasquez is just such a machine. There was only an inch and a half of clearance for the crossbar the crushed him against the machine’s steel frame. During the trial, even Double Press’s own engineer agreed that the machine could have been designed to stop 18 inches from the crush point. Double Press knew that their slicer was injuring workers and yet, as we proved at trail, did nothing to change their machine’s design, despite numerous instances of serious injury. As Vasquez was to find out, the slicer was unsafe and Double Press was accountable. A study by the Ohio Commission on the Prevention of Injury showed that nearly a quarter of the more than 2,000 agricultural injuries in Ohio each year were machine-related. Do the math. Nationwide we’re talking hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers needlessly injured by poorly designed equipment.
Besides hay bale slicers, there are endless ways to be seriously injured doing farm work. Tractors in particular are incredibly dangerous, causing nearly 250 deaths, or more than one third of all farm fatalities, each year, according to the National Tractor Safety Initiative. Grain augers, and skid steer loaders along with corn pickers, combines and brush hog mowers are also responsible for severe injuries and deaths on many farms across the country. Farmers and their workers should always strive for a safe work environment, but if you are injured it is important to know that the machine manufacturers may be responsible. If you or someone you know has been injured in a farm accident give us a call at (503) 224-2647, we’d love to hear your story. Regardless of your financial status, if you are an injured farm worker you deserve justice.