Since the 1890s Missouri has had a statute protecting workers from unsafe machinery. The law requires that the belting, shafting, machines, machinery, gearing and drums in all manufacturing, mechanical and other establishments when so placed as to be dangerous to employees or workers while engaged in their ordinary duties, shall be safely and securely guarded when possible. If this is not possible then the statute requires a notice of its danger shall be conspicuously posted.
In 1931 in a case from Lafayette County – Johnson v. Bear – a farm laborer’s hand was injured in an unguarded ensilage cutter while it was being operated in a field. The laborer sued the farmer arguing that “other establishments” in the law was broad enough to include farms.
Recently, the same appellate court in a case from Henry County – Dorris v. Kohl – has ruled its Johnson decision was limited to personal injuries of workers which actually happened on a farm; not to other places even if related to agriculture. Mr. Dorris from time-to-time worked at a feed mill in town. The mill was owned by Mr. Kohl (a farmer) who, at the time of Dorris’ injury, was predominately using the mill to grind his own cattle feed. Kohl had continued to sell some feed from the mill to the general public.
On a November Saturday morning in 2005, at Kohl’s request, Dorris went to the mill to grind some grain for Kohl’s cattle. Upon arriving Dorris found the auger clogged. He scooped out the grain and got the machinery working. While he was shoveling the grain back into the auger his left foot slipped and became caught in the auger. Dorris lost several toes; has restricted mobility and experiences pain from walking.
At trial the jury found in Kohl’s favor. However, finding the jury’s verdict against the weight of the evidence, the trial judge granted Dorris a new trial. Kohl appealed this decision to the court of appeals. The Court of Appeals did not agree with Kohl.
First, the appellate court ruled the Johnson decision was limited to injuries that actually happened on a farm; Dorris’ injuries had not happened on a farm but in a grain mill. Even then, a mill that was in a town.
Second, the appellate court ruled Dorris had presented sufficient evidence at trial from which a jury could conclude the auger did not have proper or adequate guard.
Gregory M. Dennis is Legal Counsel for the Missouri and Kansas Veterinary Medical Associations.


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