Farm accidents are accidents that happen to people who are engaged in the activities of farming or working on a farm. These can happen in a variety of settings, including smaller ranch-type farms to large-scale crop farms. As with any work setting, farms can present a number of hazards to the health and safety of the people who work in the industry.
Farms can be dangerous places. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that working in the agricultural industry is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. Thousands of farm workers suffer injuries that result in missed time from work each year, disability, economic losses and even death.
What Kinds of Accidents Happen on Farms?
Some common types of farm accidents include:
- Motor Vehicle Accidents: These may involve any of the motorized vehicles on a farm, such as tractors, harvesters, tillers, lawn tractors, trucks, ATVs, or combines. Farm equipment can be dangerous even when it functions as it should. Some of the heavy equipment used in agricultural operations is inherently dangerous.
- It can be even more hazardous if it malfunctions or has not been maintained as needed or operated with the right training. Defective farm equipment that causes injuries can be grounds for a product liability lawsuit;
- Accidents with Farm Equipment and Tools: Body parts can become entangled in moving machinery parts with disabling consequences. This is a common type of farm accident. Reportedly, 93,000 farm workers suffered non-fatal injuries while working on farms between 1997 and 2005. Twelve percent of them happened in the course of working with farm equipment;
- Animals: Animals and animal attacks cause many injuries on farms;
- Chemical Exposure: Accidents or injuries resulting from exposure to pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals used in growing crops are a risk;
- Slip and Fall Accidents: These are among the most common kinds of farm accidents. Falls from heights are especially dangerous, of course;
- Overexertion and Heat Stroke: Injuries resulting from overexertion, heat stroke, and the like can occur, especially in climates subject to high seasonal temperatures;
- Silos: Accidents that take place around silos are frequently fatal. Silos are massive towers in which crops such as corn, wheat or soybeans are stored between harvesting and distribution into the market. Or they serve as storage bins for animal feed.
- They can turn into death traps when grain cascades out of control, suffocating or crushing their victims. Silos can also collapse and explode as their contents can generate dangerous gases. Between 2007 and 2018, 80 farm workers died in silo accidents. Fourteen of them were adolescent boys.
How Does the Law Determine Liability for a Farm Accident?
Liability for injuries that a person suffers on a farm are usually going to involve three possible legal bases as follows:
- Workers’ Compensation: If a person is an employee on a farm and is injured in the course and scope of their employment, then they would have a claim for the workers’ compensation system in the state in which the farm is located;
- Strict Product LIability: If a person is injured by an accident caused by a defect in a piece of equipment or a tool, then they might have a claim for damages based on a theory of strict product liability;
- Negligence: When a person is injured in an incident that is caused by the negligence of another person who owes a duty of care to the person, e.g. a co-worker or supervisor, then they might have a claim based on a theory of negligence;
- Wrongful Death: if a person is killed because of a farm accident, their close family members would file a wrongful death lawsuit based on workers’ compensation, negligence or strict product liability.
Of course, there might be other kinds of events that could lead to liability on the part of the person responsible. For example, a person working on a farm might be the victim of an intentional tort on the part of another person.
What Are Some Examples of Common Farm Accidents?
A person does not have to use farm equipment negligently for equipment to malfunction. Reportedly grain silo accidents often occur, because manufacturers do not design them to be safe. Manufacturers also often fail to give adequate warnings to users of the many ways in which a person working in and around silos can be injured while using this huge, complex equipment.
Injury to farmers caused by unsafe farm machinery that is sold without adequate warnings for safe operation is an example of a case for strict product liability for a warning defect. If the equipment causes injury because it has been designed to work as safely as it could, it would offer an example of a case for strict product liability for a design defect.
Another example is offered by the lawsuits that have been filed against the Bayer company on behalf of farm workers who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after years of contact with its herbicide, Round-up. Over a period of many years since Round-up was introduced to the market by the Monsanto company, which was later acquired by Bayer, scientific evidence has been building that shows the herbicide to be a cause of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other varieties of lymphoma and leukemia.
In 2016, a farm worker who claimed that he contracted lymphoma because of exposure to Round-up filed a lawsuit in the federal district court for the Northern District of California. This plaintiff ultimately won $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages, because a jury concluded that the herbicide caused his cancer and the manufacturer, Monsanto, had not disclosed the known risks of the product.
The punitive damages were awarded, because of the egregious behavior of the Monsanto company in engaging in an effort over many years to falsify scientific evidence and hide the dangers of Round-up from both government regulators and the public.
Many additional lawsuits have been filed by victims claiming to have become sick because of working with Round-up. These claims were joined together by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in the Northern District of California as Mass Tort Litigation in 2016. Many cases filed in state courts were later moved to this MDL at the request of the Bayer company, which acquired Monsanto and is now responsible for answering the lawsuits by Round-up victims.
What Are the Legal Remedies in a Farm Accident Lawsuit?
A person injured in a farm accident would file a lawsuit seeking to recover compensatory damages, damages for pain and suffering and in the occasional rare case, punitive damages.
Punitive damages are generally not available in cases filed in a state workers’ compensation system.
Compensatory damages and damages for pain and suffering can cover economic losses resulting from the cost of necessary medical care, lost wages, future losses for medical care and future lost wages as well as loss of earning capacity and a person’s pain and suffering.
In wrongful death cases, the same type of damages can be recovered for the time period from the accident to the victim’s death. In addition, family members can recover for the expenses of a funeral and burial, the loss of the future earnings of the deceased person, the loss of their companionship and support and the loss of an inheritance.
In instances in which property damage is involved, the damages award may also address those losses as well.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Farm Accident Claim?
Proving that you suffered injuries in a farm accident because someone was negligent or a product was defective can be a challenging task. If you have been injured in a farm accident, you want to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.
Your lawyer can review the facts of your case and possibly enlist experts who can spot any negligence or product defects that may have caused the accident. Your lawyer can tell you if you have a case and represent you in the process of suing for damages. A farm accident case is the type of case for which you need the expertise of a personal injury attorney.