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Jury Finds Tonka Negligent In Hazardous Waste Case

May 1, 1987

BUFFALO, Minn. (AP) _ Tonka Corp. must pay more than $2.6 million to a former employee who said the toymaker encouraged him to dump some of its hazardous wastes on his farm near Annandale, a Wright County District Court jury has decided.

The jury ruled Thursday that Tonka was negligent in allowing Ted Woyke, 38, to remove hazardous materials from its Mound plant, where Woyke was employed as a machine operator for 17 years.

The jury also found that the company was negligent in instructing him on how to dispose of the materials.

Woyke had alleged that Tonka violated state and federal laws by using his farm as a dumping ground for company waste and that the company intentionally exposed him and his family to toxic waste, causing them severe emotional distress.

He said he hauled about 300 55-gallon barrels to his farm from 1972 to 1982 and that Tonka officials told him the barrels contained waste oil and could be safely used on his farm.

Woyke said he sprayed some of the waste oil on a dirt driveway to supress dust and spread some of the liquid on the floor of his chicken coop to rid the building of lice and rodents.

The jury, which deliberated for four hours Thursday, found that Woyke was not negligent in handling the wastes.

It awarded Woyke, his wife, Sandra, and their two children, Jody, 13, and Jesse, 9, almost $2 million in punitive damages, $550,000 in actual damages and $110,000 in property damages.

State investigators, acting on a tip from an anonymous informant in 1982, found toxic chemical wastes, including some suspected cancer-causing substances, in soil and barrels stored at the Woyke farm.

The Mound plant was closed in 1983, and under the supervision of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Tonka had removed the substance from the farm and is monitoring ground water in the area.

Tonka lawyer Joseph Joyce said the Minnetonka-based company will appeal the verdict to the state Court of Appeals if Judge Carroll Larson, who presided over the case, doesn’t overturn the jury’s decision.

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