One of the men, John Jentz of St. Peter, MN clearly remembers the explosion at the ConAgra grain bin: “I heard the bang. I heard the rushing of the air, and the fireball,” he said. Jentz’s co-worker, Robert Schmidt, was riding down a single-lift hoist when the explosion occurred. “It was probably the third boom when I realized that an explosion was happening, and I just froze–I knelt down and started praying,” Schmidt said. “I thought, ‘This is it, I am going to die.'”
Chicago attorney Robert Clifford, who represented Jentz and Schmidt, said there had been signs of trouble in the grain bin before the explosion, such as temperature readings of up to 400 degrees. Clifford asserted that grain bin operators ignored safety problems because they were trying to maximize use of the product. “It was either because they didn’t want to close down the facility, or they were trying to save the product that they were trying to extract so that they could resell it,” he said.
Another attorney said that ConAgra even rejected calls from fire inspectors before the explosion. Mark Taxman, representing Jason Becker, the third victim, said that those in charge failed in their duty. “This case was about folks at the top of the chain of command, who have the power to make decisions about safety, failing to make those decisions – not for two or three or five hours, but actually for five weeks. Then this horrible incident happened that essentially ruined the lives of these three young men.”
Clifford said the jury awarded the three victims $100 million in punitive damages to send a safety message to ConAgra, an agribusiness giant. Individually, Jentz received $41 million in compensatory damages and $34 million in punitive damages. He required multiple burn surgeries over many months; he can no longer work outside in the sun, nor inside at a keyboard. He has nerve damage, and has trouble walking.
Schmidt received $3 million in compensatory and $33 million punitive damages for burns to his hands and head. Becker received $33 million in punitive damages.
If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.