Farm laborers usually are not protected by the Workers’ Compensation Law unless their employer has elected to be subject to this specific law. Consequently, for the most part while a farm laborer cannot get workers’ compensation benefits for his or her injuries he or she can sue his or her farm employer for personal injuries. Also, a spouse of an injured farm laborer might have claims for loss of services and consortium. Should a farm laborer be killed or die as a result of the negligence of a farm employer, the laborer’s family might be able to sue the employer for wrongful death.
Sanders v. Wallace involved a tractor roll-over resulting in extensive injuries to a farm laborer. The jury returned a $2 million verdict for the laborer and $250,000 for his wife for loss of consortium and services. There was evidence suggesting the employer had made modifications to the tractor. Under Missouri law the laborer had been required to, and had shown the employer had been negligent and that there was a causal connection between the employer’s negligence and the resulting injuries to the laborer. While the employer disputed the jury’s verdict, the court said it was for the jury to determine if the employer knew or should have known that the tractor was unreasonably dangerous and that he should have warned the laborer of those dangers.
When a farm laborer knows of the risk and dangers associated with farm machinery, equipment, vehicles and/or animals, even if he or she can establish the defendant has legal liability, the laborer’s monetary recovery can be reduced to the extent of his or her own negligence, even to the point of zero.
For instance, in Harper v. NAMCO, Inc., the appellate court ruled the trial court had not made a mistake by telling the jury that it could find the plaintiff had contributed to the loss of his arm after his clothing had become caught in a silage wagon. The evidence showed the plaintiff had extensive familiarity with the wagon’s operations and he was aware of the danger presented by the rotating beaters.
When a farm laborer is physically injured or dies on a farm the farm employer and laborer (or his or her family) should promptly consult with a competent attorney to determine if there is any potential civil liability on the part of the employer and/or any other person or entity. The consultation should also consider if the task that resulted in the injury or death is subject to, or the employer has elected to be covered by, the Workers’ Compensation Law. Finally, the employer should promptly inform his or her insurance agent(s) and/or company (ies) of the occurrence to see if it is covered by any liability or workers’ compensation insurance the employer might have.
Gregory M. Dennis is Legal Counsel for the Missouri and Kansas veterinary medial associations. He actively practices law in both Missouri and Kansas with the law firm of Kent T. Perry & Co., L.C., Overland Park, Kan.


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