It is always tragic when a young person dies in an accident. Our minds and hearts are always drawn to the idea of “what could have been” had the young person’s life not been taken. When there is no sense of justice for the surviving family members after experiencing the loss, those feelings are often magnified even more. It was through this lens that I read a story on insurancejournal.com about a Washington mulch/landscaping company that was recently fined $199,000 by the State of Washington after the death of one of its teenage workers. Apparently a 19-year-old was working on a bark blower truck outside someone’s home when he was accidentally ground to death by an auger. (As I understand it, the auger is a screw-like device that turns in the bark truck and draws the bark into the vacuum hose that blows bark into a flowerbed.) The State of Washington Department of Labor and Industries investigated the accident and determined that the employer was regularly having its employees (many of them young people) climb into the trucks and clear out the bark while the blower machines were stilling running. In this instance, the dead 19-year old was on his first week on-the-job. The State of Washington punished the company with the large fine (although it is likely none of this fine money will go to the dead man’s surviving family.) I wonder if the young man’s parents were pursuing a wrongful death claim – aside from any benefits that might be available under Washington’s Workers’ Compensation system. As many readers already know, Worker’s Compensation is really designed to get people back to work quickly. It is not really an adequate way to recover fair and reasonable damages for workers or their families — particularly in a wrongful death case. Unfortunately, in Florida, it is very unlikely that the young man’s parents would be able to mount a successful wrongful death claim (as opposed to a Workers’ Compensation claim.) Under Florida law an employer can only be held liable for traditional wrongful death damages if there is evidence that the employer knew with virtual certainty that a worker would be killed by a dangerous condition. If the employer should have only suspected or guessed that a condition might kill someone, the worker’s family loses under Florida law. Under Florida law, if workers in a bark blower truck regularly escaped injury cleaning out the auger, it is unlikely that the employer would be held civilly liable. As anyone reading this post can imagine, this is an incredibly difficult burden to meet. Therefore, many employers are never held civilly liable for the full measure of a dead worker’s damages. This, of course, is incredibly unjust, but does illustrate how strong the business lobby is in the Florida Legislature. Nevertheless, sometimes successful claims can be made. They just need to be assessed...Read More »
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