Court reverses ruling against meatpacker
DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP)--A Kansas appeals court reverses a decision against a Dodge City beef packing plant that awarded $64,000 to a woman who hurt herself when she stepped into a hole while taking soil samples for testing.
The Kansas Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 27 that the trial court erred when it said previous case law protecting landowners from certain liability did not apply in the case.
Shelly K. Herrell filed the lawsuit in 2006 after stepping into a hole in a concrete floor at National Beef plant in Dodge City, hurting her ankle and knee. National Beef argued that because she was covered by workers' compensation, the company couldn't be sued.
But Ford County District Judge Daniel Love ruled that she could sue because normal business operations were going on during the construction project that created the holes. He said Herrell would not have been able to sue if the area had been vacated.
A jury awarded Herrell $251,197 in damages and assigned 47.5 percent fault to National Beef, 32.5 percent to J.A.G. Construction Co., 15 percent to Herrell's employer, Terracon, and 5 percent to Herrell.
Herrell received about $64,000 after paying back workers' compensation.
But the appeals court ruled that the district court's conclusion was wrong and that the jury's verdict was based on faulty legal theory. The judges remanded the case to district court with instructions to rule in favor of National Beef.
Justice Patrick McAnany said he agreed that the court is required to overturn the verdict, but said a retrial is in order because previous case law did not apply to every aspect of the case.
He said a specific Kansas law grants an employee of a subcontractor the right to sue if the working conditions were caused by "circumstances creating a legal liability," which the court ignores by citing prior Supreme Court decisions.
"Immunizing National Beef from tort liability for Herrell's injuries ignores the plain language of the statute," McAnany wrote.