Ithaca, N.Y. — About two years ago, an immigrant working on a dairy farm in Ithaca was entangled in a piece of equipment and killed.

The family of Francisco Ortiz Garcia is now suing Sweyolakan Dairy, arguing that the farm negligently allowed Garcia to use equipment that was in an “unsafe, dangerous, hazardous” and defective condition.

Garcia, of Mexico, left behind a wife, Mayra Santiago Francisco, and an infant son, Alejandro Ortiz Santiago.

Francisco Ortiz Garcia

Garcia “had long complained” to his wife “about the ill-functioning machine that eventually took his life,” according to a post by the Tompkins County Workers’ Center.

Sweyolakan Dairy did not immediately return a request for comment. Richard Weisbeck, a Buffalo attorney, is representing Garcia’s family.

The lawsuit, filed on Monday, did not list a requested amount in damages. It says Garcia’s wife and son “were dependent upon (Garcia) for support, maintenance, nurture, comfort, advice, aid and society, which they are now deprived of as a result of the aforesaid incident.”

Garcia’s 2013 death was one of three farm-related fatalities in a 21 month period in the Ithaca area. The two others were Craig Schenk, of Lansing; and Nathan Hoover, of Culvert (just north of Tompkins County). 

“Dairy farmworkers and their advocates believe that these deaths could have been prevented by attainable changes in farm machine technology, training and personal protective equipment,” wrote Tom Joyce, president of the Midstate Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a private non-profit that works to improve worker health and safety in the region, in a column published by The Voice in November.

“Health and safety conditions on dairy farms have been deteriorating for years as the workforce becomes larger and as the diary farmers race to ramp up dairy production to meet the needs of a booming industry.”

The complaint filed against Sweyolakan Dairy also names James L. Baker, Sr., as a defendant in the case.

The lawsuit says that Garcia was operating a John Deere skid steer loader when it got entangled with another piece of equipment, “resulting in severe injuries and death.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.