Who is Liable in Workplace Fatalities?

Workplace fatalities are a shockingly frequent occurrence in the U.S. When a worker dies on the job, who is responsible? And how can loved ones receive compensation for their loss?

Earlier this month, a landscaping worker was killed in Palm Springs when a truck rolled over him. Police say the victim, 36-year-old Elenilson Garcia, died at the scene. The incident occurred at an apartment complex in the 2100 block of Casitas Way.

According to the initial investigation, it appears the truck inadvertently ran over the worker after it was parked. The landscaping truck involved belongs to Pro Landscaping, a local business based out of Thousand Palms.

Authorities continue to investigate the incident. Garcia leaves behind his wife and 5-year-old daughter.

What are Common Causes of Workplace Fatalities?

Tragically, 12 people die on the job everyday in the U.S. Last year, roughly 4,405 people died in workplace fatalities. Some common causes of workplace deaths include:

  • Operating heavy machinery, such as construction equipment
  • Electrocution
  • Operating defective equipment
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Fatal motor vehicle accidents
  • Exposure to toxic substances

Workers’ Compensation: Immunity for Employers?

In California, family members of a worker killed on the job are eligible for workers’ compensation death benefits. A spouse who earned $30,000 or less in the 12 months prior to the worker’s death is eligible as a total dependent, while a spouse who earned more than $30,000 could be considered a partial dependent. Children under the age of 18 or children who are physically or mentally incapacitated are also eligible as total dependents.

Workers’ compensation laws essentially prevent workers from suing their employers for injuries. Workers’ compensation claims are made in a no-fault environment, meaning there is no need to prove negligence. The downside to this form of compensation is the payouts are often far less than would be ordered in a standard lawsuit.

Because of workers’ compensation laws, it can be difficult to bring a wrongful death suit against an employer regarding a workplace fatality. Of course, employers are required to uphold safety standards outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, if a company is found to be in violation of these standards, the punishments are rarely very harsh.

For example, Wal-Mart employee Jdimytai Damour was killed during a stampede in a store on Black Friday 2008. OSHA found Wal-Mart guilty of failing to provide Damour a safe workplace. The agency levied the maximum amount allowed for the violation—$7,000.

These workers’ compensation protections can make it difficult to hold employers accountable for workplace fatalities. In some cases, a wrongful death attorney might investigate whether other parties were responsible for the employee’s safety. For instance, if a construction were died while working a job, it would be difficult to sue the construction company for wrongful death. However, there are multiple entities involved in a construction job—the landowner, the general contractor and other subcontractors. If machinery was involved, including vehicles, then the machinery manufacturers and service providers also have a legal duty to provide safe products. If defective machinery contributed to a workplace fatality, a wrongful death suit against the manufacturer would be feasible.

Why File a Wrongful Death Suit?

By filing a wrongful death claim following a workplace fatality, a family member is claiming:

  • Negligence contributed to the worker’s death
  • The worker’s death has caused the family member(s) to suffer losses, including loss of quality of life, loss of financial support, and loss of love and emotional support. Hence, the negligent party should compensate the family for their losses.  

In addition to determining the main at-fault party, it’s also important to determine any other entities that might have contributed to the death. It might be necessary to name more than one party in the suit, to eliminate the possibility that the defendant will try to pin the blame on another party not named in the suit.

As you can see, wrongful death claims due to workplace fatalities can be quite complex. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help you navigate the process and eliminate unnecessary stress and hardship during this difficult time.

“Losing a loved one is terrible ordeal. The financial burden just adds more stress to a difficult situation. Our firm can help fight for the compensation you deserve in the wake of a wrongful death,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have lost a loved one and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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