MANKATO — A Comfrey farmer who was injured while helping Crystal Valley Cooperative employees pull a stuck sprayer from his farm field in Blue Earth County should be able to take his case to a jury, according to ruling issued this week by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Kurt Eischen’s lawsuit against the cooperative was dismissed by Blue Earth County District Court Judge Bradley Walker in December. His ruling said Eischen, who had farmed his entire life, should have known pulling the sprayer out of the mud with a tractor could be dangerous.
Eischen had hired Crystal Valley to fertilize farm land he owns or was leasing in Blue Earth County on July 1, 2010. The business sent several employees and a 30,000-pound liquid sprayer out to the farm.
While the crew was spraying, the sprayer became stuck in the field twice. Both times Eischen and his son Dan Eischen used one of their tractors to pull the sprayer from the field. The first time the Eischens and the crew were able to free the tractor with no problems. The second time a chain that was provided to the crew by Crystal Valley snapped and hit Kurt Eischen below the right knee.
Kurt Eischen had been standing between the tractor and sprayer. He was holding the chain and a nylon rope out of the mud until Dan Eischen slowly moved the tractor far enough forward to remove slack from the chain and rope. Once they were taut, Kurt Eischen gave his son a signal to start pulling with the tractor, according to court records.
When the lawsuit was filed in January 2012, Kurt Eischen said he could not move his right foot, had pain in his leg and had to wear a leg brace. He and his wife, JoAnn, sued Crystal Valley for pain and disability and her loss of companionship. They also accused Crystal Valley and its employees of negligence for lack of training and the use of a defective chain.
Crystal Valley disputed the claims, saying the Eischens contributed to the injury by accelerating too fast with the tractor and standing too close to the chain and rope. The business made a motion to dismiss the case because Kurt Eischen should have known the risks involved with what he was doing.
The motion was granted by Walker. His ruling said, generally, that Eischen assumed some risk with moving the sprayer in the same way a fan at a hockey game assumes the risk of being hit by a flying puck. Walker didn’t use hockey specifically but sporting events as a whole.
“Removing a stuck farm vehicle from a field by a farmer who has spent his whole life engaging in farm activity is another such instance where primary assumption of risk is applicable,” Walker’s ruling said.
The appeals court ruling said Walker first needed to determine whether Crystal Valley owed Eischen a duty to use due care while providing a paid service. They pointed out that the cooperative’s plant operator testified that pulling stuck equipment out of a field is “the most dangerous thing we do.”
“We conclude that Crystal Valley, as a contractor hired by Kurt Eischen to spray fertilizer with its own equipment, owed Kurt Eischen a duty to use due care in supervising its employees involved in the service for hire and supplying its employees with safe and proper equipment,” the appeals court ruling said.
It also said it wasn’t clear whether Eischen realized the full danger involved with the job because the chain had been supplied by Crystal Valley. The case was sent back to Walker to have a trial date scheduled.