In an unusual move, criminal charges were filed in Washington State this month against a landscaping company as a result of the 2014 death of an employee. It is the first time in more than 20 years that the King County prosecuting attorney's office has criminally prosecuted a private company over a workplace-safety incident, according to an article in The Seattle Times.
Everett-based Pacific Topsoils Inc. is charged with Violation of Labor Safety Regulation with Death Resulting, which is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000.
Documents filed in King County Superior Court allege the company “willfully and knowingly” violated health and safety laws that resulted in the July 2014 death of 19-year-old Bradley Hogue. It was only Hogue's second day on the job when he was pulled into the auger of the bark blower and killed. Hogue was in the back of the machine using a pitchfork to break up material along the conveyor belt and auger mechanism. Two other workers were around the side of a home where they were working when they turned on the feeder and blower via remote control.
The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries investigated the incident and recommended criminal charges be filed based on “a deliberate disregard for safety of employees.” In 2015 the company was fined nearly $200,000 by the Department of Labor & Industries for 16 violations, two of which were protocols for how workers determine machines are powered off and safe to access. The Department of Labor & Industries also found a lack of training in addition to the multiple safety violations. The company has appealed the Department of Labor & Industries' fine.
A serious violation requires “a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result,” per both the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA). “Federal and state case law has consistently held that it is not necessary to prove that there is a substantial probability that an accident will occur, rather it is only necessary to prove that an accident is possible and death or serious physical harm could result.”
Washington State statutes regarding labor regulations can be found under Title 49 of the Revised Code of Washington. According to general safety standards set forth in RCW 49.17.060, “each employer shall furnish to each of his or her employees a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause serious injury or death.”
Every defendant, whether a corporation or an individual, has a right to representation by a qualified attorney. If you have been arrested and face criminal charges, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.