Maine judge hears case of injured blueberry farmworker

A civil trial that opened this week in Bangor, Maine, asks whether a blueberry harvesting company is responsible for injuries suffered by a farmworker in the spring of 2012.

Attorney Travis Brennan of Berman & Simmons represents 36-year-old Michael Lund of Machias, Maine, a small town in Washington County in the heart of blueberry growing country. Four years ago, Lund suffered a nearly fatal heat stroke while working on a seasonal crew that was burning blueberry fields. Burning is still a common practice for pruning and regenerating blueberry crops.

Brennan contends that Millard A. Whitney & Sons, Inc., a Machias company owned by David Whitney, was negligent and should pay for Lund’s medical bills, lost wages, and other damages.

Staff writer Judy Harrison of the Bangor Daily News covered the opening day of the trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Here are some excerpts from the coverage. Click here to read the whole story.

A Superior Court judge will decide whether a blueberry grower was responsible for the severe heat stroke a Machias man suffered while burning off a field or if the worker’s poor physical condition and the unusually warm weather caused him to become ill more than four years ago.

Michael Lund, 36, sued Milliard A. Whitney & Sons last year. He claims the company was negligent in preparing him for a kind of work he had never done.

Lund was called on March 22, 2012, to replace another worker in the burning of blueberry fields, his attorney, Travis Brennan of Portland, said in his opening statement. Lund had worked previously for Whitney & Sons but had never worked a burn before.

Lund became disoriented during the second burn in the early afternoon but did not recognize the signs of heat stroke, Brennan told the judge. Lund collapsed and was taken to Downeast Community Hospital where his temperature was 108 degrees and he was unresponsive and in respiratory failure.

Lund was flown from the Machias hospital to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where he spent three days in the intensive care unit, the attorney said. Lund was released on the fourth day after a miraculous recovery but still suffers pain in his right shoulder and lower legs that keeps him from exercising and limits his ability to work and enjoy other activities, Brennan said.

Whitney & Sons was not required to have Workers’ Compensation Insurance because it employs seasonal agricultural workers. If it had been a business required to have that kind of insurance, Lund’s claims would have been handled by the Workers’ Compensation Board.

Berman & Simmons Attorney Travis Brennan

Travis Brennan, Berman & Simmons