Federal Jury Awards Former Tyson Worker $1.35 Million

Pine Bluff Commercial News

LITTLE ROCK - A former worker at the Tyson plant in Pine Bluff who sued the manufacturer of poultry processing equipment after being injured was awarded $1.35 million by a federal court jury at Little Rock Friday.

Gwendolyn Bohannon was working as a sanitation worker at Tyson on July 28, 2004 when her clothing got caught in a "neck breaker" machine, manufactured by Johnson Food Equipment Inc., a Kansas City firm, and her hand was crushed when it was pulled into the machine.

Bohannon, 34, sued the company, claiming the machine was defective and not reasonably safe because it did not include a guard or emergency shut off devices.

Three fingers and her thumb were severed and after eight surgeries, the hand was removed and she now wears a prosthetic, a release from the law firm of Schlichter Bogard and Denton in St. Louis, her attorneys said. She also suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and has required extensive psychological counseling.

The company denied responsibility, claiming that Bohannon should not have been working so close to the machine and that Tyson should have trained her better.

"Johnson could have prevented this horrific injury simply by installing basic, inexpensive safety devices," attorney Richard J. Zalasky of Schlichter Bogard & Denton, said. 'It chose not to spend the money, but instead tried to blame others."

"The jury's verdict sends them a message that safety should take a priority over profits," he said. "Gwen has suffered a great deal and this verdict was a great relief because it gives her the ability to move forward in her life and to know that the company was held responsible. She hopes design improvements will be made so that others will not be injured."

Federal Judge James M. Moody presided over the week long trial. Attorneys Richard Zalasky and Brad Wilmoth tried the case on behalf of Schlichter Bogard & Denton.