A 35-year-old Ceres woman whose arm was severed as she cleaned a Hershey chocolate factory machine will get $100,000 in exchange for criminal charges being dropped against the company, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Erica Domen also received a $300,000 lump sum as well as $5,000 a month in workers compensation, which will continue for the rest of her life.
"Nothing could ever replace the loss of my arm," Domen said. "No money could add up."
Domen, a youth pastor, said the accident was a nightmare but she has moved on. She still practices karate and dances at church. She uses a prosthetic arm to help her with everyday tasks and is going to school full time to become a counselor.
"What we go through can either make us or break us, and I'm going to let it make me stronger," Domen said. "I am doing good, and I am going forward in life."
The Hershey Co. faced two charges alleging it did not secure safety checks on the machine that injured Domen.
The company faced a maximum fine of $1.5 million if the case had gone to trial. But Deputy District Attorney John Goulart said dropping the criminal charges helped ensure some money would go to Domen because she might not have been entitled to more restitution.
"This was a way to ensure Erica got some money," Goulart said.
Defense attorney Kirk McAllister, who represented Hershey in the criminal case, could not be reached for comment.
In addition to the payment to Domen, Hershey must pay $125,000 in fines to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office and $88,000 to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal-OSHA.
Hershey did not admit fault as part of the court settlement, but admitted one willful violation and one serious violation to Cal-OSHA.
Superior Court Judge William A. Mayhew signed off on the deal Dec. 30.
On March 24, 2007, Domen was cleaning the inside of a "conomill," a batter-sifting machine, when a rotating paddle in the machine caught Domen's left arm and amputated it at the shoulder.
A report by Cal-OSHA found that employees weren't properly trained in how to lock a machine so it couldn't begin operating while being cleaned or repaired.
OSHA's report also noted that a switch that was supposed to stop the machine from operating in such a situation was broken.
At the time of the accident, Hershey was in the beginning stages of closing the Oakdale plant and moving operations to Mexico.
An Oakland company, Sconza Candy Co., bought the plant and moved its candy-making operations there in November 2008.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.