Jentz v. Conagra Foods, Inc., No. 13-1542 (7th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
A Chester, Illinois grain bin exploded, injuring three workers. A jury awarded almost $180 million in compensatory and punitive damages against ConAgra, which owned the facility, part of a flour mill, and West Side, which ConAgra had hired about a month before the explosion to address problems in the bin. The injured workers were working on the bin’s problems. On appeal, West Side did not contest liability to the workers but claimed that it did not have to reimburse ConAgra for the cost of repairing the facility. Both maintained that damages were excessive. The Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment against ConAgra and the award of punitive damages against West Side, but affirmed awards of compensatory damages against West Side and remanded for consideration of indemnification and contribution. West Side was an independent contractor in a commercial relation with ConAgra and normal rules of contract and tort law apply. Having hired an expert in hot bins, ConAgra was entitled to assume that West Side would ask for whatever information it needed. Admission of evidence that referred to insurance was harmless; the verdicts so far exceeded $3 million that the jury’s belief that West Side carried that much insurance cannot have played a material role.