Robert Clifford and Kevin Durkin Obtain $112 million of record $180 million Verdict in Federal Court in St. Louis
Robert A. Clifford and Kevin P. Durkin, partners at
Clifford Law Offices, led the trial team that obtained a record $112
million verdict on (Friday, June 1, 2012) on behalf of two men who were
burned in a grain elevator explosion in downstate Illinois owned by
ConAgra Foods. Also part of the trial team was Brad L. Badgley of
Belleville, Illinois. The jury returned a verdict of $41.5 million in
compensatory damages and $34.3 million in punitive damages for John W.
Jentz. The jury also returned a verdict of $2.9 million in compensatory
damages and $33.3 million in punitive damages for Robert Schmidt.
Following a one-month trial in federal court in St. Louis before
Judge Michael J. Reagan, the jury returned a verdict in 10 hours on
behalf of Jentz, 38, of St. Peter, Minnesota, and Schmidt, 35,
Hutchinson, Minnesota. The two men were among those working in the
ConAgra grain facility in downstate Chester, Illinois, on April 27,
2010, when it exploded in flames, burning Jentz on 70-75 percent of his
body. He was airlifted by helicopter from the scene and spent months
recuperating in the hospital.
He suffered disabling injuries and has undergone numerous
surgeries and skin grafts. Attorneys for the severely injured man
contended that the grain bin had not been properly cleaned in nearly 20
years and that despite an unusual odor, smoke and unusually high
temperatures in the bin, they did not take proper precautions for the
“Mr. Jentz and the workers on the scene were not properly
instructed as to what was going on in the hot bin,” Clifford said
following the verdict. “Company officials knew the seriousness of what
was happening and never conveyed that information to their workers or
provide them with the proper precautions so that they would avoid
injury. The jury’s verdict in compensatory and punitive damages speaks
for itself.” The jury found Jentz one (1) percent at fault and Schmidt
was determined not to be at fault in the tragedy. Jentz was awarded $1
million in additional punitives by the defendant Westside Salvage, Inc.
A third man was injured in the incident, Justin Becker, who was
represented by other counsel. He received one-third of the $100,000,000
in punitive damages that the jury awarded to be divided equally between
the three men.
A PRESS CONFERENCE WAS HELD WITH JENTZ AND SCHMIDT AND THEIR
ATTORNEYS, ROBERT A. CLIFFORD AND KEVIN P. DURKIN MONDAY,
June 4, 2012 IN CHICAGO AT CLIFFORD LAW OFFICES. VIDEOS OF THE SCENE AND THE VICTIMS
WERE SHOWN AND PHOTOS WERE AVAILABLE.
The concrete grain bin that exploded while the three workers were
taking out equipment was used to store wheat middling pellets, feed for
livestock, which is a byproduct from the process of making flour from wheat.
ConAgra’s headquarters are located in Omaha, Nebraska.