Big Judgment: Award eclipses previous record in Stillwater County

The family of a Columbus man killed when he was pinned between two trucks has won a $2.5 million verdict against a Bozeman-based cable TV Company.

A Stillwater County jury in Columbus Thursday night held Western Community TV Inc. Liable for the wrongful death of Daniel C. Rasmussen, a 42-year-old father of three. Rasmussen, Montana Power Co. manager for Columbus, died on May 28, 1989, 11 days after he was crushed between a MPC Line truck and a truck driven by James Tryon of Absarokee.

The accident occurred May 17, 1989, on Montana Secondary Highway 420, where Rasmussen and Tryon, the Absarokee cable TV representative, were moving lines after a road construction project.

Testimony during the four-day trial before District Judge G. Todd Baugh showed that Tryon's truck lurched forward as he tried to start it, pinning Rasmussen against the back of a three-ton MPC Truck. Rasmussen suffered internal injuries.

As personal representative of her husband's estate, Cheryl Rasmussen of Columbus sued Tryon and Western Community TV Inc. for damages. Jurors ruled that Tryon was negligent in Rasmussen's death.

Cheryl Rasmussen's lawyers, Cliff Edwards and David Paoli of Billings, argued that Tryon was an agent or employee of ECTV.

The corporation's lawyers, Joseph Sullivan and Robert Emmons of Great Falls, maintained that Tryon was an independent contractor for the WCTV.

Jurors, however, agreed with the plaintiff's argument that Tryon was actually an agent or employee of the company, and therefore, held WCTV responsible for Tryon's negligence. Jurors said Rasmussen was not negligent in the accident.

The jury deliberated about five hours before ordering WCTV to pay $1.5 million in damages to Cheryl Rasmussen and the couple's three children, now ages 14, 16, and 17, for the wrongful death of their husband and father. They ordered the company to pay Rasmussen's estate $1,070,381.80 for the victim's pain and suffering before his death as well as for loss of future wages for a total award of $2,570,381.80.

Edwards and Paoli had asked for $3.5 million verdict. On Friday, the law partners said they were pleased with the outcome of the case and called the verdict "very fair." Edwards said he was told by a Columbus lawyer that, before Thursday night's verdict, the largest jury award in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in Stillwater County had been $54,000.