Business

Family of Canyon County worker killed on job sues Crookham

The family of Francisca R. Gomez, a woman who died in January at a Crookham Co. seed plant in Caldwell after her hair was caught in a piece of machinery, is suing her employer and the equipment manufacturer.

Among other things, the lawsuit alleges that before Gomez died, another seed-treating employee had gotten her hair stuck in a moving piece of machinery; and after she died, employees in the plant’s onion processing area had gotten their clothing caught in conveyors.

One of Gomez’s daughters was among the Crookham employees whose clothes were caught in the onion machinery, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit is for negligence, wrongful death, liability for a defective product and several other claims. It seeks damages exceeding $10,000.

Gomez died at the plant from blood loss and traumatic asphyxia, the Canyon County coroner said in January.

The lawsuit says Gomez had been cleaning a “picking table,” or seed treater, when her hair was caught in the machinery. She was partially scalped and asphyxiated, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in state court and first reported by the Idaho Press Tribune, says Crookham did not follow the operating manual for the equipment, which it bought from Kansas-based USC LLC.

The manual instructed Crookham to take a number of steps to protect workers, including giving them hard hats and disabling the machinery when it needed to be cleaned, according to the lawsuit. Crookham did not give Gomez a hard hat, it said.

The lawsuit says the companies hired Mathew Call of Industrial Hygiene Resources to evaluate the equipment’s safety after Gomez died. Call found “several dangerous conditions, hazards and safety violations and concerns,” the document says.

The lawsuit says Crookham and the manufacturer “intentionally failed” to protect employees from danger.

“In fact, employees were instructed to clean the picking table system while it was on,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says a video recorded at the plant on the day Gomez died shows Gomez going underneath the picking table to clean it while it was turned on. When she got stuck in the machinery, “several employees can be seen repeatedly hitting a button on a wall” trying to turn it off, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges that Gomez’s employer did not try to save her life or comfort her, but “instructed employees to continue working.”

The video shows employees continuing to work “within mere feet of Ms. Gomez’s body,” the lawsuit says.

An attorney for the Gomez family said attorneys for Crookham and USC LLC have not yet responded.

Crookham’s president, George Crookham, did not respond to a message from the Statesman Monday.

Earlier this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a $9,360 penalty for serious violations associated with Gomez’s death.

George Crookham gave a statement to KIVI 6 On Your Side shortly after Gomez’s death, saying her death was “an enormous personal loss to each and every one of us.”

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @IDS_Audrey

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