U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan said Monday the packaged food retailer was responsible for the injuries of the men because the company failed to properly clean the grain elevator for 17 years and did not call emergency officials when the temperature of the grain increased and an odor began emanating from it before the explosion, Courthouse News Service reported.
ConAgra officials had asked that the damages be reduced because they said the company had no duty to protect people hired to remediate dangerous situations.
"Plaintiffs had no special training in firefighting or in dealing with hot bins," Reagan wrote in his ruling, denying the ConAgra request. "A jury could reasonably conclude that ConAgra knew for weeks before plaintiffs arrived at the site that the bin was dangerous and could explode but did not warn its subcontractor West Side or plaintiffs of that danger."
The judge awarded $75.5 million, including $34.3 million in punitive damages, to John W. Jentz, who suffered burns over 70 to 75 percent of his body. Justin Becker was awarded $66.9 million and his wife, Amanda Becker, received $237,500. Robert Schmidt was awarded $36.2 million, including $33.3 million in punitive damages, Courthouse News Service reported.