Jury Awards $42 Million to Rapid City Woman Injured at Work

November 10, 2021

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A Pennington County jury has awarded $42 million to a Rapid City woman after she was denied medical benefits from her previous employer and the employer’s insurance company.

United Parcel Service and Liberty Mutual were ordered to pay Fern Johnson $41 million in punitive damages and $1 million in compensatory damages in a verdict reached Friday.

Johnson took a worker’s compensation claim to court following an injury on the job while working for UPS in 1996. A laparoscopy determined Johnson had a hernia and she underwent surgery. She stopped working for UPS in 1997 due to groin and back pain.

Johnson’s compensable medical expenses were paid for by the employer up until spring of 2010, at which point the appellants requested their attorney to review the case, the Rapid City Journal reported.

UPS hired a neurologist to conduct an independent medical exam. Dr. Bruce Norback said that Johnson’s employment at UPS was no longer a major contributing cause of her need for medical treatment related to her pain because she had not worked for UPS for 13 years, but still experienced worsening symptoms.

A verdict awarding $45 million to Johnson was then reversed by the South Dakota Supreme Court and remanded back to circuit court for retrial, resulting in the second jury award.

One of Johnson’s attorneys, G. Verne Goodsell, said “the consistency of the two verdicts confirms that our community will not tolerate bad and reckless behavior by insurance companies who harm our citizens, particularly when the companies pocket the money for medical care that belongs to the injured worker.”

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