Monday, June 24, 2013

Roloffs Reached Settlement With Pumpkin Season Customer Who Was Injured At Roloff Farms

The following report was composed and submitted by our contributor Rap541 - We are posting it for the purpose of news reporting. It is Rap541 (who read all the publicly available court documents about this case) summarizing the case for the many people that never knew about this case and Rap541's offers an opinion on the case. As Rap541 provided links to the court site, readers are encouraged to read the documents for themselves and to form their own opinion. No one associated with the Spiritswander blog has had any conversations or correspondence about this case with either the Roloffs or the plaintiff in this case (Ms. Farrell) or anyone associated with either party. This is simply a recap of the publicly available information about the case that anyone can access via the pacer website.

Written by Rap541

So the Farrell Vs Roloff case is over. You might remember this as the woman suing the Roloffs because she broke her leg in the pumpkin pavilion. I’m going to give you my interpretation of the case, but I am also going to state up front – the court documents are available publicly, on line, you just pay 10 cents per page unless there’s more than 30 pages, and then you pay 3 dollars. The case number is 3:11-cv-01255-HZ, and you just go to and look under Oregon. This little article is my interpretation, and I freely state there are things I don’t know, but I can make some logical points.

It was settled out of court, so we don’t know how much Ms. Farrell got. Technically, we don’t know that she got anything…. But based on what was going on in the case? I think the Roloffs were probably smart to settle it out of court.

Here goes.

The gist of the case is that Ms. Farrell was at the farm in October of 2009 as part of a tour. She was in the pumpkin pavilion. Her group got called for lunch, there was a lot of people there, she was accidentally bumped from behind by someone else in her group; there were no handrails and she fell and broke her leg. When staff arrived at the scene, she said she tripped and fell and that it was an accident. Matt said his staff reported that she kept apologizing for being clumsy. To be fair, it sounds like everyone did the right thing once it was understood she was hurt. Then, over a year later, a lawsuit is filed.

First, I really was not very sympathetic to Farrell as the case initially unfolded. The basics are this. She fell and broke her leg and wants a pile of money (almost two million when the case was settled) and I have the same cringe that most of you have over stuff like this. It was an accident, is it really fair to expect a windfall? Plus, frankly the Roloffs have money or at least like to say they have money and people do perceive celebrities, especially celebrities who make a point of showcasing their monetary achievements publicly as rich enough to suck up a nuisance lawsuit by throwing money at it to make it go away. It’s a slip and fall case, the sort of thing that unscrupulous people do to take advantage in minor accident situations. I also, for some reason, thought that Linda Farrell was forty or so. My initial thought was that she was milking it for money.

So here’s some facts. Ms. Farrell is actually in her late *sixties*. She did actually break her leg, so its not a “oh my back isn't right” kind of thing. She, as an elderly woman, has had 7 surgeries on her leg since this fall. The leg isn't healing. There’s some discussion in the court papers that if an upcoming surgery fails, her leg will be amputated. Now, of course the plaintiff will put their injuries in the worst possible light. Where I am going here is that there was a real injury, at times there were delays in this case because Ms. Farrell was hospitalized. My point? We’re not talking about a fake injury here. She really broke her leg. It’s really not healing. Elderly people don’t do well in hospitals and not many gold digging grifters will go all the way to risking amputation. So I am saying, to the couple of you that really virulently defend the Roloffs, before you call this a nuisance lawsuit done by some horrid person looking for nothing but free money, consider how you would feel if your 68 year old grandma went to Roloff Farms, fell in the pavilion and broke her leg, and three, four years later is still unable to walk.  I don’t think she’s faking it, if only because per the court documents, she’s already racked up close to a million dollars in medical bills (you do have to prove those numbers in court).

Now the problem is that she’s also requesting punitive damages. Does everyone remember that episode where Matt claimed the county popped a surprise inspection on him and threatened to shut down the entire farm for pumpkin season but somehow Matt convinced them otherwise? And then whined on twitter about it? Here’s the original report on the blog.

Also here’s my review of the episode.

Basically, the court case reveals that a lot of Matt’s whining on this topic of the evil county inspectors giving him surprise inspections is well…. Made up in his mind. Here’s what happened. Oh, and this info is in the case. It’s the “order on motion for partial summary judgement” filed on 3/19/2013. And let me put this in perspective – Matt and Amy were basically arguing that Ms. Farrell shouldn't be allowed punitive damages because they weren't negligent because the county said it was okay to use the pavilion.

The Roloffs didn't get notice from the county the day before pumpkin season opened. They actually got a letter June 5, 2009 advising of the code violations being reported, and a letter on Sept 24th, 2009 advising them to not let people use certain buildings including the pavilion until they were properly permitted.  The response to motion for partial summary judgment on 12/20/2012 is gonna cost you, but it’s a fun read because it outlines how the county isn't magically showing up out of nowhere to demand things be permitted. The problem, by the way, is that the Roloffs are saying they had permission from the county to let people in the pavilion for the season, and the county is stating no, that didn't happen at all. So if the Roloffs were told the pavilion was off limits to the public until it was permitted, and let people use it, then when Ms. Farrell broke her leg falling approximately three weeks later in a building the Roloffs weren't supposed to be using…. Then she gets to call it negligent. The Roloffs were asking for the punitive damage aspect to be put aside, as they feel the county gave them permission to use the unpermitted pavilion.

Here’s the kicker.  According to Matt, this permission was all verbal. Matt is saying the discussion in “Clash with the County” was all about the pumpkin pavilion, while the county is saying no, we were talking about the mercantile building that was also totally unpermitted. 

Matt insists his being allowed to open the farm was permission to use all the structures while the county states they never told him he couldn't open, just that he couldn't allow people into certain buildings, including the pumpkin pavilion. Apparently there were a number of things the Roloffs were supposed to do that still have never happened, and the pumpkin pavilion is still an unpermitted structure that the Roloffs continue to let people in.

There’s also a fairly extensive bugaboo about someone telling them they could let people use it but no more than forty occupancy, but at the time of the accident, witnesses put the number of people in the pavilion at over 86 and possibly over 100. Based on watching the episodes? Yeah, I could see the occupancy being so high, and various people (Caryn - Matt's assistant) stated that no one was counting or keeping track of how many people were in the building.

So to sum up, the judge agreed with the plaintiff, on this point. That is, it appears the Roloffs were well aware that the county did not give them permission to use the pumpkin pavilion, and were aware that it was due to multiple code violations. Soon after the judge decided that Ms. Farrell could seek punitive damages at trial, the case was settled out of court.

I don’t know what the settlement was. What I am about to say is purely my opinion. I don’t think Ms. Farrell made out like a bandit, but I do think she got a nice chunk of change from the Roloffs.  She got hurt, and while I think her age might have exacerbated her injury, she was a paying guest at a commercial venture and the owners of the business knew their building wasn't up to code and let people run around it anyway.

I’m not *shocked* that the pavilion is still unpermitted (or at least was as of March 2013) because I do get how sometimes building codes can be petty. I also could see Matt insisting on refusing to comply until this case resolved, because he’s also petty.  

Some of the salient points were that the stairs were uneven, and there were no handrails, and the place was too crowded. And here’s the thing – call it a farm all you want, Matt, but you’re running a business. Someone got hurt, someone got seriously hurt and there’s a reasonable chance that it wouldn't have happened if you had done the right thing and brought the building up to code.  As it is, the fact that the start of this little crisis was months before pumpkin season 2009 so the twitter bitching on Oct 1st about how this all happened out of the blue is kinda sorta a lie. Only not kinda sorta. Also, I am genuinely curious what Matt meant about having to hand over all of his profits when his entire argument in court was that he got permission verbally to use the buildings. And since he has never bothered to bring the pavilion up to code, I have no idea why he’s complaining about being out of pocket for anything. What am I getting at, you ask?

It’s a classic Matt the poor little martyr act. Oh its so ridiculous that his farm is held to the same standards as everyone else and he is going broke keeping up with the county’s incessant and ridiculous demands. Only he’s not going broke because he’s not bothering to do all of the permitting and then claiming that he got permission to not be permitted. I suspect they had to pay Ms. Farrell a nice sum on this, and while I was inclined to be sympathetic…. Nope, not a bit. 

They knew the building was problematic, they chose to ignore it, they chose to let people use the building after being told not to let people use the building. Matt whined about being forced to permit the building and got himself a big old pile of sympathy and then never bothered to get the permit. Then someone got hurt. Someone got hurt in the building that wasn't up to code, and that wasn't supposed to be used.


Brandon said...

Personally, I think punitive damages are garbage.

Buy hey, you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Not too long ago Matt and Amy were claiming that Amy suffered so much emotional distress that it was worth $200,000 because the inspector wandered into their field to take a picture of the arc.

I find myself asking if that is worth $200,000 in damages, then what is a real injury that required multiple surgeries worth in damages?

Rap541 said...

Brandon - I think punitive damages have their place. In this case, where there's no question that it was an accident, if the building was up to code, or if the county had actually written down "We agree that it's ok to let people use these unpermitted buildings" - then it is perfectly fair for the Roloffs to say "hey the inspectors said it was ok, we didn't do anything wrong" and punitive damages would be ridiculous.

I'm sure no one wanted anyone to get hurt, but it is a business and you do have to cover your butt on this kind of thing. Frankly, based on watching the show and the various accidents and near accidents at pumpkin season - the trebuchet incident, this broken leg, Jeremy running a people mover into a fence, Zach's difficulty in manuevering, the scary bridge that is no longer used - you'd think they would be more careful.

BeckyM said...

As a former manager of a horse farm (tons of liability there trust me), if someone trips in a hole on your property - they can sue and big time. PERIOD.

If you don't want the liability than don't run a business. Insurance also usually covers these things; unless Matt and Amy don't have it insured as a business (and the insurance company would have represented them) which would be typical of their cheapskate ways.

Anonymous said...

People will sue over anything these days but this seems like a valid law suit to me. It'd be one thing to sue for emotional distress after Jeremy offended you or something, but if this woman was severely injured on the property and is still having complications then yes, the Roloffs are liable for it. I hope she's okay.

Vic Rattlehead said...

Out of court settlement usually means "we knew we were going to lose at trial so we paid what they were asking to make it go away".

Anonymous said...

This guy Roloff is a real corner-cutter, and then he gets all bug-eyed and upset when his genius ideas go wrong and people, including his own family members, get hurt. He's the poster boy for the small businessman who does what he pleases until he gets caught. No wonder his wife finally had enough and left him.

Debbie said...

Great commentary on the lawsuit!.I like the Roloffs but hey sounds like THEY were in the wrong and they paid.Good they have the money.. .Hope that lady has recovered good by now.