The deaths of two downstate Illinois workers have resulted in a $6 million settlement to their estates.
On June 24, 2014, Frank Rosebur, 37, and another employee attempted to clean a rail car containing agricultural product residue. Shortly after entering from the top of the rail car, Frank collapsed. As his co-worker yelled for help, Dean Stone, 29, came running to his aid. Dean jumped into the rail car, put Frank over his shoulder, and tried unsuccessfully to climb out. Dean also collapsed due to the fumes in the rail car. They both died of closed space asphyxia with hydrogen sulfide intoxication.
Both men were working at Agridyne, LLC’s, facility at the 1600 block of South Second Street in Pekin, Illinois, a company that produces and sells agricultural food products for livestock. Agridyne uses the Pekin facility to clean the rail cars that transport its products. Over time, the leftover food product can accumulate in the rail cars and create deadly gases in confined spaces.
After their deaths, their estates filed sued Agridyne in Tazewell County Circuit Court for failure to provide and use the safety precautions required for a safe working environment, including gas meters, safety harnesses, removal systems and gas masks. During the case, it was discovered that the rail car was not tested for toxic gases before Frank or Dean entered it. It was also revealed that a safety manual was written by Agridyne’s Pekin Plant Manager a year earlier but, the new plant manager ignored it. None of the safety precautions were followed for testing the air before entry or using harnesses for retrieval in the event of an emergency. Three weeks before Frank and Dean’s death, that plant manager was fired for matters unrelated to safety and Agridyne decided not to replace him, chose instead to split up his duties among some of the remaining employees, none of whom were trained on these safety precautions. By that time, no one was following or enforcing the safety guidelines and none of the employees had ever been trained on when and how to use those precautions.
After an investigation, Agridyne was cited by OSHA for three willful and eight serious violations and fined nearly $200,000. Many of the violations centered on Agridyne’s failure to implement and train the workers on permit-required confined space safety regulations.
“The deaths of Frank and Dean are especially tragic because they were so easily preventable,” said their attorney, Matthew Ports of Pfaff, Gill & Ports, Ltd. “Hard workers like Frank and Dean deserve better than this. No one had any idea that this rail car had deadly levels of gas in it because no one enforced the safety plan,” he said. According to Ports, he was able to show that had the gas meters been used, the men would not have died. “The families of both men are hopeful that their deaths are a wake-up call to employers about the importance of safety in the workplace,” Ports added.
Frank Rosebur, 37, left a loving family including three children who were 14, 13, and 9 years old at the time of his death. Dean Stone, 29, was also a family man, leaving his wife, a daughter (11) and a son (10). Dean was an Army veteran who saw combat as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The settlements were reached in private communications between the lawyers for the parties on January 5, 2018. The settlement awaits court approval before the Honorable Michael D. Risinger, Circuit Court Tazewell County. Each estate is to receive $3 million. Each $3 million settlement represents the second highest Tazewell County wrongful death award, exceeded only by a $5,008,921 verdict in March 2016, also obtained by Bruce Pfaff and Matthew Ports of Pfaff, Gill & Ports, Ltd. The firm also has the highest personal injury award in Tazewell County of $13,544,172.