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October 09, 2002 - Man injured on job in Shakopee awarded $35 million

A Chaska man whose head was crushed by machinery at work in Shakopee was awarded $35.3 million in what is believed to be a record personal-injury verdict for Minnesota, attorneys said Monday. Because settlement terms are confidential, the amount of money Forde is expected to receive in addition to the $35.3 million was undisclosed.

Gary Forde, 35, sued the California-based Geo. M. Martin Co. after he suffered permanent brain damage when his head became lodged in a box stacker at work. A Hennepin County jury apparently agreed with the plaintiff that Geo. M. Martin should have equipped the machine with a safety device the company has used in Europe for almost 10 years, said John Sheehy, the Meshbesher & Spence attorney who represented Forde.

Experienced state attorneys said Minnesota juries rarely approve multimillion-dollar awards. Although large awards are derided as "runaway verdicts" in some cases, many in the legal profession in Minnesota defended the figure Forde received as fair compensation for a man who lost sight in one eye, hearing in one ear and who suffered a host of injuries that prevent him from walking, living alone or working. "When you start counting up all the medical costs and what it would be like to live like that for the rest of your life, substantial verdicts are justified," said David Weissbrodt, a law professor at the University of Minnesota.

Forde must use a wheelchair, is blind in one eye and losing sight in the other and needs 24-hour care for life. In addition to losing his vision, Forde doesn't produce tears and can't close his eyelid without the help of a weight. He has spasms and tremors and will require Botox injections to help reduce the spasms. About a year after the accident, he learned to walk again, but he has a poor sense of balance and can walk only short distances. The man who loved to fish and camp spends much of his time in a wheelchair. Forde's lips and tongue had to be manipulated manually to help him learn to talk, which also took about a year.

The jury awarded Forde $24 million for past and future pain, disability, disfigurement, embarrassment and emotional distress. The rest of the award was for such things as medical and attendant care.

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