Developments in the Tampico, Illinois Corn Farm Electrocution Tragedy
On July 25, 2011, two best friends, Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza, both 14 years old at the time, were working in the fields near their northwestern Illinois home, detasseling corn in order to earn some spending money before starting their freshman year of high school. Without warning, the girls stepped into a pool of water that had collected in the field and suffered a severe electrical shock, which resulted in their deaths.
It is believed that a defective meter, which was part of the field’s irrigation system, was releasing electrical currents into the fields. When Hannah and Jade stepped near the defective meter, they were electrocuted. Several other workers were injured from the electrical shock. Another worker saw the girls being electrocuted, but was unable to assist them, for fear that he, too, would be electrocuted.
On August 4, 2011, a lawsuit was filed by Brian Kendall, on behalf of his daughter Hannah’s estate. Mr. Kendall is represented by Todd A. Smith and Devon C. Bruce of Power Rogers & Smith, L.L.P. of Chicago. The lawsuit alleges that Monsanto was negligent in failing to inspect and eliminate the electrical hazard in the cornfield. In addition to other Defendants, the lawsuit names Commonwealth Edison, which owned the defective meter that released the electrical currents into the field.
Recently, on January 25, 2012, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) released the results of its investigation. OSHA reported that it would not be issuing citations related to the tragedy, but indicated in a letter to each of the Defendants named in the lawsuit that there were work site hazards present when the tragedy occurred. Specifically, OSHA officials pointed out that the electrical system was not safely grounded. In fact, there was a missing secondary grounding rod that is required by current regulations. Such grounding measures would have prevented this tragedy.
The Kendall family issued a response shortly after they received news that no citations would be issued in connection with their daughter’s death. Counsel for the Kendall family, Todd Smith, stated his belief that OSHA’s letters indicated various options for mitigating these types of tragedies.
As Mr. Smith explained, the investigation has been "one-sided," as it allows for corporations to interact and work with OSHA during the investigation, offering their own evidence and defenses. However, victims' families are not given the same opportunity, despite the fact that experts agree the tragedy was easily preventable through following existing regulations.
Bruce called the situation a “travesty of justice.” Although OSHA itself recognizes preventable safety threats, it gave a free pass to large corporations.
Currently, the case is pending before Judge Edward Prochaska in the Circuit Court of Winnebago County, Illinois.