Dangers of Grant County, Washington Roads: $650,000.00 Recovery

In a recent case in our office (Calbom and Schwab), a case involving a harobed, we needed to prove that farm workers and their employers not only have the same obligations as other vehicles using the roads or highways, but employers (farmers or custom farmers) should concentrate also on proper training of those workers operating machinery on our public highways. I dare say, if we took a survey, we would find that almost none have been trained.

We recognize we live in a farming area of the state, our law office supports farming, many of our employees have been associated with or grew up with farming, and we appreciate the economic stability brought to our state by farmers and their hardworking employees, but all businesses have an obligation to properly train their workers.  Take the following environment, a well used public highway or road that is intersected by a blind exit point from a farm; a motorist on the road or highway cannot see the danger of the hidden exit on the right side just past the poplars or other trees:

An innocent exit point, will the farm worker driving equipment realize his or her vision of  oncoming traffic is impaired?  We can’t see the exit from the roadway, so the worker’s vision is also blocked, but does the worker realize it or take steps to avoid danger to oncoming motorist before entering onto the road?

This is what it looks like if the driver of the farm equipment does not yield the right of way or if he does not have someone in front of him as a flagger or lookout, if yielding the right of way just before entering the highway or road will not give him or her good vision of oncoming traffic :

Farm worker survives, but almost kills innocent motorist
Be safe on the highways, practice defensive driving, and that includes driving farm equipment onto the roadways from the farm field

The Rules of the Road are the same for passenger vehicles and farm vehicles, and the following are examples of the rules that apply to an intersection, even if the intersection is simply an exit point from a farm field,  especially where the exit point is adjacent to poplars blocking a full view of the road as the worker drives out into in from the farm field:

WPI 70.01 General Duty—Driver or Pedestrian

It is the duty of every person using a public street or highway [whether a pedestrian or a driver of a vehicle] to exercise ordinary care to avoid placing [himself or herself or] others in danger and to exercise ordinary care to avoid a collision.

WPI 70.02.05 Right of Way—Entering Street or Highway From Private Road or Driveway. A statute provides that a driver about to enter or cross a public street or highway from a private road or driveway shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on the public street or highway. This right of way, however, is not absolute but relative, and the duty to exercise ordinary care rests upon both parties. The primary duty, however, rests upon the driver of the entering or crossing vehicle, which duty must be performed with reasonable regard to the maintenance of a fair margin of safety at all times.

WPI 70.06 Right to Assume Others Will Obey Law—Streets or Highways. Every person using a public street or highway has the right to assume that other persons thereon will use ordinary care and will obey the rules of the road and has a right to proceed on such assumption until he or she knows, or in the exercise of ordinary care should know, to the contrary.

WPI 12.07 Right to Assume Others Will Exercise Ordinary Care. Every person has the right to assume that others will exercise ordinary care [and comply with the law], and a person has a right to proceed on such assumption until he or she knows, or in the exercise of ordinary care should know, to the contrary.

(Also see: Rules of the Road – Washington State Patrol

http://www.wsp.wa.gov/traveler/roadrules.htm)

A little training and a little caution can go a long way.  The circumstances discussed in this blog come up everyday in Eastern Washington, especially in Grant, Adam, Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas, and Yakima counties.  Failure to follow simple rules can end in the death of a person, or, as in a case in which I was involved representing a seriously injured person, a serious injury can end life as the person knew it before the negligent act of the farm worker.

Leg injuries today are more common in auto accidents because the vehicles are safer.  Take for example a femur shaft fracture:

See what the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) says about femur shaft fractures:

(http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00521)

Your thighbone (femur) is the longest and strongest bone in your body. Because the femur is so strong, it usually takes a lot of force to break it. Car crashes, for example, are the number one cause of femur fractures.

Femur Fracture

And see the consequences, a metal spike or nail driven into the femur to stabilize it, just because a worker was poorly trained in defensive driving:

Highway safety can avoid this procedure
(Left) This x-ray shows a healed femur fracture treated with intramedullary nailing. (Right) In this x-ray, the femur fracture has been treated with plates and screws.

And lastly, what can a little training of the farm worker accomplish, complications from a surgery, a surgery which can even take the life of the victim according to the AAOS:

Complications from Surgery

In addition to the risks of surgery in general, such as blood loss or problems related to anesthesia, complications of surgery may include:

  • Infection
  • Injury to nerves and blood vessels
  • Blood clots
  • Fat embolism (bone marrow enters the blood stream and can travel to the lungs; this can also happen from the fracture itself without surgery)
  • Malalignment or the inability to correctly position the broken bone fragments
  • Delayed union or nonunion (when the fracture heals slower than usual or not at all)
  • Hardware irritation (sometimes the end of the nail or the screw can irritate the overlying muscles and tendons)

Yes, all motorists should practice defensive driving, but custom farmers and others involved in farming should begin to teach and train their employees in defensive driving, just because they have a license to drive, does not mean they have been properly trained.