A huge jury verdict awarded to a former employee of Summit Brewing Co. is likely to be appealed, according to the recipient of that verdict.
Daniel J. Cragg of Eckland & Blando in Minneapolis was part of the team that represented DeWarren Harris, a 33-year-old St. Paul man who was severely scalded by hot water that escaped from a high-pressure hose while he was working at the St. Paul brewery.
The defendants in the case were Ohio-based Continental ContiTech North America, which made the hose; Pennsylvania-based Campbell Fittings, which produced the hose’s coupling connector; and Summit Brewing itself, as a third-party defendant.
Harris was awarded more than $35 million in damages by jurors at the end of a 2½-week trial in Ramsey County. He is also to collect another $21 million in interest, which has been accruing since he filed suit in 2016. The plaintiff prevailed despite a successful motion in limine to limit expert witnesses.
“We expect them to appeal,” said Cragg. “It’s possible that they would want to work out a post-verdict settlement.”
The jury in the state’s 2nd Judicial District determined earlier this month that the makers of the power-washing hose and the St. Paul’s brewery were negligent when Harris was burned over 40 percent of his body from the release of 180-degree water while he cleaned a warehouse floor in the brewery canning room. The accident happened in May 2014.
“The trial went very well from voir dire onward,” said Cragg. “We were surprised that the defendant let it get to verdict.”
No attorneys for any of the three defendant companies responded to requests for comment. Continental ContiTech has said it intends to appeal the verdict, saying the award was excessive. Harris could be paid in full by the end of the year, pending an appeal.
Harris was working at the brewery as a temp in 2014. He was spraying the floor with a 35-foot-long hose to wash away excess beer at the end of the day when a connector on the spraying end came loose, and the hose caught on Harris’ belt. Another employee closed the shutoff valve on one wall of the canning room, but by then the boiling water had reached Harris.
Harris’s lawyers said the issue was not that the hose was defective, but rather that Summit had a duty to warn him about the risk of clothing getting snagged. Summit also did not give Harris protective gear such as an apron, gloves or mask. His injuries resulted in a six-week hospital stay.
In a written statement to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Summit founder and president Mark Stutrud said he was considering an appeal. He said that while the jury did not find that the design of a coupling connecting the hose to the water source was flawed intrinsically, the coupling’s maker failed to provide guidelines for its safe usage. Stutrud also maintained that Harris was hurt doing work he wasn’t asked to do.
Cragg dismissed the implication that the injury was somehow Harris’s fault. “The coupling was the issue,” he said.
Jurors assigned 85 percent of the responsibility for the incident to Continental ContiTech and Campbell fittings, and the remaining 15 percent to Summit. The ratio was exactly what the plaintiff’s side had requested, according to Cragg.
Apart from the interest involved, the $35 million awarded to Harris includes $16 million for past pain and suffering, $19 million for future pain and suffering, and $740,000 to cover medical expenses since he was injured. Cragg said the total was within the range requested.
He also said Harris has reached the maximum of his medical recovery. He’s sensitive to cold and heat, is unable to sweat, and risks a seizure if he overheats.
“He had justice delayed,” said Cragg. “Because of the pandemic and various other factors, this was pending for more than six years.”
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