A Ramsey County jury's verdict means a $56 million payout for a St. Paul man who was severely scalded by hot water that escaped from a high-pressure hose while working at Summit Brewing Company.
DeWarren Harris, 33, was awarded more than $35 million in damages by jurors who at the end of the 2 1⁄2 -week trial Wednesday found that the makers of the power-washing hose and the St. Paul's brewery were negligent when he was burned over 40% of his body from the unintended release of 180-degree water as he cleaned a warehouse floor in the canning room in May 2014.
Harris is also in line to collect from the defendants another $21 million in interest, which has been accruing since initial legal action was taken in 2016, his attorney Bruce Rivers said Thursday.
"He just lives in incredible pain," Rivers said Thursday, speaking on behalf of his client. "The kid just went through hell, and it's so amazing to be able to give him respite. He had nightmares for over a year [afterward]."
The defendants are Ohio-based Continental ContiTech North America, maker of the hose; Pennsylvania-based Campbell Fittings, which produced the hose's connector; and Summit Brewing. Messages seeking reaction to the verdict were left with each of the defendants or their attorneys.
Summit Brewing founder and President Mark Stutrud said Friday a decision about appealing the verdict is being weighed, but "I am extremely disappointed in the jury's decision, which I view as unbalanced and excessive. This trial did not clearly establish the cause of this accident or how the hose fitting became uncoupled."
Stutrud added that his company swiftly implemented state investigators' safety recommendations, and their "findings prove that Summit's responsibility for this accident was very limited and as a result, we believe that the jury's decision is not supported by the facts."
ContiTech Vice President Kathryn Blackwell said her company intends to appeal the verdict because "we thought the jury's damage award was excessive, and we believe we have strong grounds for appeal, and we are investigating those options."
The jurors in Harris' personal injury lawsuit assigned 85% of the responsibility for the incident to Continental ContiTech and Campbell fittings, and the remaining 15% to Summit.
Harris could be paid in full by the end of the year, Rivers said. Any appeal of the verdict, however, would put the payout on hold.
Assessing the probability of the verdict being challenged, Rivers said, "I just don't think they have any grounds for an appeal. If they drag it out and appeal it, that will be that much more interest to pay."
Eight years ago, the 25-year-old Harris was working at the brewery just off W. 7th Street as a temporary hire with hopes of getting a permanent job, Rivers said.
While he was spraying the floor with the 35-foot-long hose to wash away excess beer at the end of the day, a connector on the spraying end came loose, and the hose caught on Harris' belt. A fellow worker rushed over and closed the shutoff valve on one wall of the canning room to halt the rush of sizzling water.
Rivers said the jurors ruled against the manufacturers not because the hose was defective "but because they had a duty to warn" about the risk of clothing getting snagged.
"They should have said, 'Look, here are the dangers,' " Rivers said. "Also, had they advised to use a padlock — and it's designed for that — the hose would not have released [the water]."
Summit's shortcoming, the attorney said, was attributed to the brewer failing to provide Harris with protective gear such as an apron, gloves or a mask.
Harris spent about six weeks in the hospital. Once home, health aides visited routinely to change his bandages.
"He would make his mother leave because he didn't want her to hear him scream," Rivers said.
The area of Harris' body that was burned is "like a sash from his right hip to his left shoulder," Rivers said. "Some of it was down to the bone."
The $35 million awarded to Harris includes $16 million for past pain and suffering, $19 million for future pain and suffering, and $740,000 to cover medical expenses since he was injured.
After all these years, some of the implications from being burned remain with Harris.
"He's limited in what he can do," Rivers said. "His strength isn't what it used to be. He can't sweat through the skin graft sites."
Harris had to quit coaching youth football, the attorney said, "because he was overheating."
This verdict comes less than four months after a federal jury in Minneapolis awarded a college student more than $111 million in damages — possibly the largest award of its kind in Minnesota history. The jurors found that negligent care provided by St. Cloud Orthopedic Associates to Anuj Thapa's injured leg after surgery led to extreme pain and permanent disability.