On July 25, 2011, two best friends, Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza, both 14 years old at the time, were working in the fields near their northwestern Illinois home, detasseling corn in order to earn some spending money before starting their freshman year of high school. Without warning, the girls stepped into a pool of water that had collected in the field and suffered a severe electrical shock, which resulted in their deaths.
It is believed that a defective meter, which was part of the field's irrigation system, was releasing electrical currents into the fields. When Hannah and Jade stepped near the defective meter, they were electrocuted. Several others working in the fields were injured from the electrical shock. Another worker saw the girls being electrocuted, but was unable to assist them, for fear that he, too, would be electrocuted
On August 4, 2011, a lawsuit was filed by Brian Kendall, on behalf of his daughter Hannah's estate. Mr. Kendall is represented by Todd A. Smith and Devon C. Bruce of Power Rogers & Smith, P.C. of Chicago. The lawsuit alleges that Monsanto was negligent in failing to inspect and eliminate the electrical hazard in the cornfield. In addition to other Defendants, the lawsuit names Commonwealth Edison, which owned the defective meter that released the electrical currents into the field.
Recently, on January 25, 2012, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration ("OSHA") released the results of its investigation of the incident. OSHA reported that it would not be issuing citations related to the tragedy, but indicated in a letter to each of the Defendants named in the lawsuit that there were hazards present in the work site on the date and time of the deadly occurrence. Specifically, OSHA officials pointed out that the electrical system was not bonded or grounded to prevent electrical shock and that a second ground rod should have been installed. Such grounding safety measures would have prevented this tragedy.
The Kendall family issued a response shortly after they received news that no citations would be issued in connection with their daughter's death. Counsel for the Kendall family, Todd Smith, stated, "OSHA itself recognized in their own letters that there are known ways to ensure that these tragedies do not occur."
As Mr. Smith explained, "This whole process is one sided. The representatives for these large corporate entities are allowed the opportunity to interact and communicate with OSHA during their investigation. In contrast, the victims, as here, are not allowed to present their facts and findings to OSHA. Our experts who have inspected the field and the equipment involved are convinced that there were known hazards in the field, which the Defendants knew about, and had they acted properly could have prevented this tragedy from occurring."
Mr. Bruce added, "This is a travesty of justice where OSHA itself identifies preventable hazards which led to the death of these teenagers and yet gives a pass to these large corporate entities."
Currently, the case is pending before Judge Edward Prochaska in the Circuit Court of Winnebago County, Illinois.
Teens die after detasseling electrocution, Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2011.
10 Electrocuted, 2 Killed, in Corn Farm Accident, MyFoxChicago.com, July 26, 2011.
OSHA investigating farm accident that killed two teen girls, Chicago Tribune, July 26, 2011.
No Citations in Deadly Illinois Cornfield Accident, WIFR.com, January 25, 2012.