Family Farming Operation Liable for Farm-Hand’s Injuries

November 7, 2007 | Erin Herbold

 

An employer must provide employees with a reasonably safe work place, set reasonable rules for employee conduct and adequately train employees to protect the safety of co-workers and others. Failure to do so can result in liability. In this case, over-work and lack of training were cited as the primary causes of a farm accident.  Accordingly, the court placed the blame squarely on a family farming operation for injuries to a farm-hand when a tractor was driven over his leg.

The accident occurred during the harvest season in the fall of 2005, when an employee driving a tractor hauling a grain wagon ran over the farm-hand’s leg and ankle. In the summer of 2006, the plaintiff sued, claiming that his employer failed to provide a safe work place, and that he was required to work under unreasonable conditions without proper training and supervision. The trial court disagreed, noting the farm-hand’s experience as a farm laborer and that he assumed the risk for his injuries. On appeal, the farm-hand argued that the lower court erred in not letting the jury decide the issue of whether the employer’s negligence was the cause of his injuries.

The appellate court noted that employers have a “nondelegable duty to provide their employees with reasonably safe places to work,” adequate training and supervision. Further, the appellate court stated that for a defendant to prove that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff had actual or constructive knowledge of the risk and that the plaintiff appreciated and voluntarily accepted that risk.  The court held that the defendant failed to prove these elements.

Finally, the appellate court found that there was enough evidence of the defendant’s negligent supervision and training for the jury to consider the issues. The plaintiff may have put himself in harm’s way by standing so near the tractor, but, this did not relieve the defendant of liability for negligent farming practices with respect to employees. Stone v. Von Eye Farms, No. 24460, 2007 S.D. LEXIS 181 (S.D. Sup. Ct., Nov. 7, 2007).