Two Spokane County grass seed growers must pay $918,000 in damages to a Freeman man injured in a 1994 car crash, a jury decided Friday.
Jurors said one farm is liable because its pickup driver was involved in the accident; the other for failing to halt traffic on a smoke-filled road near its burning fields.
After deliberating for four hours, the jury made the award to Ronald McCormick for hip and leg injuries he suffered in a head-on collision.
Jurors determined that Brenda Sprenger, who drove the pickup that struck McCormick’s compact car, was 75 percent negligent. Maple Leaf Farms, whose grass fields were burning at the time, was liable for the other 25 percent.
Sprenger was working at the time for Gady Farms, another county grass seed farm.
Because she was driving a Gady Farms truck at the time of the accident, Sprenger’s liability extends to her employer, said McCormick’s attorney, Max Etter.
McCormick, 66, and his wife Lee, 57, filed suit after the September 1994 accident, which occurred next to Maple Leaf Farms in southeast Spokane County.
Both Maple Leaf Farms and Gady Farms were named as defendants.
During a two-week trial in Spokane County Superior Court, Etter said McCormick’s injuries caused him to lose his job as a machine operator for Inland Empire Paper Co. He had worked there for 30 years.
The award was less than half of what Etter said his clients deserved. He had sought $2.1 million on the basis of past and future lost wages, medical bills and harm to their marital relationship.
McCormick was driving south along Campbell Road, approaching a 160-acre fire just started by employees at Maple Leaf Farms.
From the south, more than a mile away, Sprenger reached a road checkpoint controlled by Marjorie Ramsey, who along with her husband Glen, operate Maple Leaf Farms.
County and state laws require growers to monitor traffic and delay drivers if smoke creates dangerous conditions.
Sprenger persuaded Ramsey to let her continue onto Campbell Road, Sprenger testified.
As she drove on, the smoke increased, obscuring her vision. Her truck collided with McCormick’s Toyota as each traveled 25-30 mph, according to Etter.
Attorneys for the Ramseys blamed Sprenger for the accident, saying she weaved across the center line and failed to exercise reasonable care on the road.
Attorneys for Sprenger and Gady Farms blamed the Ramseys, saying they should have had people at both ends of Campbell Road controlling traffic during the field burn.
“This was a tough trial,” McCormick said after the verdict. “It wasn’t easy, ending up in court suing people who are my neighbors.”
He said he was satisfied with the award, saying, “It’s an amount we feel represents the problems we’ve had.”
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