The father of a northwestern Illinois girl who was electrocuted while removing tassels from corn filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that hired his daughter.
Brian Kendall’s lawsuit against St. Louis-based Monsanto Corp. says his daughter’s death could have been prevented. Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza, both 14 years old and from Sterling, were killed July 25 when they came into contact with a field irrigator while working near Tampico.
“The information that we have so far is that there was an appreciated, understood, electrical problem with connections to the irrigation system there and nothing was done about it obviously, prior to the kids going out there and as a result two deaths and serious injuries have occurred,” said Todd Smith, Brian Kendall’s attorney.
Donald Matthews, one of the field owners, told reporters that lightning had struck the irrigation system. About 72 people were de-tasseling corn for Monsanto at the time. Two other teens also were seriously injured. Six workers were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
Brian Kendall’s lawsuit says Monsanto knew about problems with the field’s irrigation equipment and did nothing to fix them.
“The actual owner and her husband gave instructions that the electricity should be shut off to that system, but it was obviously not done,” Smith said.
The Occupations Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident.
Monsanto denied the Kendall family’s claims in a statement and said crews wouldn’t have been allowed to work in the cornfield if the company knew there was an electrical hazard.
“Until OSHA’s accident investigation is complete, we believe that any comment regarding the cause of this event is premature and unjustified,” the statement read.
The suit also names ComEd, which runs the electric meter hit by lightning, and Matthews and his wife, who own the farm.
Seed companies, such as Monsanto, hire people to detassle corn so it produces pure stands of hybrid seed. To produce cross-bred hybrids, the companies remove tassels from “female” rows of corn. Interplanted “male” rows then pollinate the female plants to produce a hybrid. The jobs typically go to high school and college students looking to earn summer cash.
ComEd said in a statement they were working with local authorities and could not speak “to the specifics in this pending litigation.” One of the Matthews’ relatives answered the phone Saturday morning and said the couple was not speaking to the media.