In October of 2014, John Pugno, a Rhoades McKee client represented by Stephen Hulst, was injured when a stack of heavy cardboard fell on top of him while he was walking through Blue Harvest Farms’ facility. Blue Harvest created the stack of cardboard that measured over 14 feet high and weighed over 1,000 pounds. Blue Harvest, however, used no shelving, banding, or any other security measure to ensure that the stack did not fall over. Blue Harvest also used cracked wooden pallets as part of the stack. The Pugnos brought suit against Blue Harvest, and the case was tried to an Ottawa County jury in the summer of 2017. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Pugnos, and a judgment exceeding $415,000 ultimately entered. Read full case study here. Blue Harvest appealed.
On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals, in a published opinion, affirmed the jury’s verdict and the Ottawa County Circuit judge’s rulings. Of particular note, the Court of Appeals held that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”) applies to premises liability claims. Prior to this decision, there had been no published decisions in Michigan addressing this issue in a premises liability case. The Court agreed that the evidence supported the conclusion that this sort of event – a large stack of cardboard falling without warning – would not normally happen in the absence of negligence. In addition, the Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling regarding spoliation of evidence, agreeing that the spoliation jury instruction was properly provided in light of Blue Harvest’s immediate disposal of the cracked wooden pallets following Mr. Pugno’s injuries. The opinion was listed as one of the most important opinions for 2018 by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.
Following the Michigan Court of Appeals’ ruling, the parties resolved the case, with Blue Harvest satisfying the judgment.