A jury has awarded $16 million to the families of two teens who died after being engulfed in a corn bin.
The Carroll County, IL, jury awarded $8 million each to the families of Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alex Pacas, 19,who died of traumatic asphyxiation in July 2010 inside a Consolidated Grain and Barge bin operated by Haasbach LLC in Mount Carroll, IL. The jury verdict was against Consolidated. Haasbach settled with the families before the trial. The teens were employed by Haasbach.
Whitebread and Paca were helping move corn down onto a conveyor in the bin when Whitebread began sinking into the corn. Pacas jumped in to help him, as did fellow worker Will Piper, who was 20 at the time. A fourth worker, who was 15, ran out of the bin to get help.
Whitebread and Paca suffocated. Piper was engulfed to his neck for six hours while 300 employees tried to remove him from the bin. The jury awarded piper $875,000.
Consolidated says it plans to appeal the verdict. The company argued it shouldn’t be held responsible because it didn’t employ the teens or those responsible for their safety.
An attorney for the families, Kevin Durkin, said, “The family is pleased not about the money but that the company was held accountable.”
Catherine Rylatt, the aunt of Pacas, said the verdict could help send a message to grain handling companies so a similar incident never happens again. Rylatt is a member of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition.
OSHA originally fined Haasbach $555,000 for 24 violations. The company settled with OSHA for $200,000 in fines. It also agreed to pay $68,125 in civil penalties for wage violations having to do with employment of workers age 18 or under. Haasbach is no longer in business.
In 2010, 51 workers were engulfed by grain stored in bins, and 26 died — the highest number on record for one year. That prompted OSHA to send letters to 13,000 grain elevator operators warning the employers to not allow workers to enter grain storage facilities without proper equipment, precautions (such as turning off and locking/tagging out all equipment used so that the grain is not being emptied or moving into the bin) and training.
However, some members of Congress from farming states have taken issue with OSHA’s inspections of farms with fewer than 10 employees.