Brian Taylor and Steve Hamilton recently tried a case to jury verdict in Billings, Montana. Steve and Brian defended the City of Billings and received a unanimous defense verdict.  The case involved the policies and procedures that the City of Billings Public Works Division had in place to protect against injury and death related to individuals who are around, and in, the solid waste collection receptacles.

Plaintiff (the Estate) alleged that the decedent was in a collection receptacle when a City front-end loader garbage truck collected the contents and dropped the contents into the truck’s hopper. Plaintiff alleged the decedent was compacted in the hopper and died.  Plaintiff presented evidence that the City was well aware of problems related to people entering, and sleeping in, dumpsters. Plaintiff produced internal City documents acknowledging the issue, that three to six people were picked up but not actually placed into truck hoppers each year, and that one person per year is actually dropped in the hopper.  Plaintiff presented evidence that a transient died in the exact same way in the past. Plaintiff also asserted that the camera located in the truck hoppers was inadequate and did not show the entire hopper. Plaintiff presented evidence through a prior City employee that this employee had been raising the issue related to transients in the dumpsters for years prior to this matter and asserted that the City needed to take additional precautions to prevent this type of incident.

Steve and Brian presented the jury with the policies and procedures that were in place to reduce the likelihood of this type of injury. The City presented evidence related to the change in the policies and procedures following the prior death in 2009.  This included adding cameras with night vision and audio capability to the truck hoppers, which allow drivers to view the hopper and listen to any noises in the hopper. Steve cross-examined the former City employee about his criticisms and suggested recommendations related to changing camera locations or adding additional camera locations to help prevent injury or death.  On cross-examination the former employee admitted that he had not investigated or tested the benefits of adding an additional camera or changing the camera location.  He also admitted that he did not know that the proposed new location, in the front of the hopper facing back instead of the back of the hopper facing forward, had been tested by the City and found to not work as well.

The twelve-person jury unanimously agreed with the City that reasonable policies and procedures were in place to prevent this type of injury.