It was just another day at the North Carolina family farm where Robbie Plyler worked at for 20 years. Then, he lost his leg.
A federal jury ruled Thursday the 59-year-old and his wife will get $2.5 million in damages for negligence shown by Cox Brothers Farm — owned by three generations of family members.
Plyler was cleaning corn out of a massive farm bin — something his lawyers say he hadn’t done in years — when his foot fell through a missing safety bar and onto blades below. He lost half of his right leg because of the November 2020 incident. He and his wife sued the Union County farm in 2022.
Bins like the one Plyler cleaned typically have holes in the bottom. Below them, augers pass underneath metal bars and a steel trap door to move the grains out.
In court documents, Alex Heroy — one of Plyler’s lawyers — says the farm’s owners removed the central bar — one of three that shielded the auger below the bin’s floor.
But they didn’t tell Plyler, Heroy said. So he moved the door below, and then he lost his right foot — and, eventually, half his leg.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, augers must be shielded by an “attached guard.” Heroy contended the steel door didn’t satisfy that requirement.
While the jury found Plyler contributed to his injury by removing the door, they said the farm was negligent and should have warned him about it.
Cox Brothers Farm — and three generations of family members who run it — owe $2 million in damages to Plyler and $500,000 to his wife, Deborah Plyler, for the disruption the incident caused to her marriage.
The farm — owned and run by Marion and Delano Cox; their son, Rusty Cox; and his son, Campbell Cox — is a “large and powerful” family farm that grows soybeans, corn and wheat on thousands of acres in Union County, Heroy said.
Chris Raab, the defendants’ attorney, argued in court Plyler was injured by his own negligence, Law360 reported. Raab said Plyler left his post outside the bin, moved the steel door and didn’t look where he was going once inside.
Heroy and Plyler’s other attorney, Jennifer Houti, also argued the farm’s actions were intentional and willful. Raab said nothing indicated the Cox family intended to withhold information or hurt Plyler.
It was an “isolated and unforeseeable” incident, he said.
Plyler and his wife were awarded more than the $2.3 million his attorneys requested in compensatory damages, though an unknown amount of punitive damages were not awarded, according to Law360.
The money will cover Plyler’s past and future medical expenses and his loss of earning capacity.