Workplace Deaths Lead to Civil Lawsuits, Wrongful Death Claims

For workers stuck in the daily grind, each work day seems like just another day. However, any day can bring an unexpected event like a workplace death. While transportation and construction jobs have a higher risk of workplace accidents, on-the-job deaths can happen to any type of employee at any kind of company and under many different circumstances.

Two recent workplace deaths demonstrate how circumstances can play a large part in how and when these tragedies occur, who is to blame for the deaths and how the victims’ families should handle such difficult scenarios to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

Tragedy Strikes

In 2008, a 26-year-old printing plant employee, Margarita Mojica, was killed when the cutting and creasing machine she was preparing switched on and crushed her. Her employer had not trained his employees on proper safety practices and was recently criminally charged with manslaughter.

In another tragedy, 25-year-old inmate firefighter Fernando Sanchez died after he was thrown from a truck in a head-on crash with a vehicle driven by an elderly man, who was also killed. The rest of the inmate and LA firefighter crew survived.

Victims of Circumstance

For Margarita, the circumstances of her death were directly linked to the actions of her employer. If she or her manager had safety training, or if safety equipment had been properly installed on the machine that killed her, she may still be alive today. This is an instance where the surviving family is entitled to workers’ comp death benefits and reasonable burial expenses under California law.

For Fernando, the circumstances of his death were unforeseen and, for the most part, uncontrollable. He was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. The reasons for how and why on-the-job deaths occur are unique, but the blame for these types of deaths must land somewhere. Under California law, Fernando’s survivors may file for workers’ compensation death benefits and burial expenses.

Third-Party Claims

When workplace deaths happen, the responsible parties may include employers, coworkers, device or equipment manufacturers, third parties or even the employees themselves. After investigating how these deaths occurred, criminal penalties or fines may be charged against the guilty parties.

Although an employee (or her survivors) may not generally sue her employer for workplace injuries or death, a third-party claim may still be available. In Margarita’s death, her surviving family brought a third-party claim against the printing press manufacturer and company that sold and installed it. Since the press manufacturer and retailer were not Margarita’s employers, these claims are permissible under California law. In Fernando’s death, the third-party elderly driver also died, so his family could pursue insurance and civil claims against the driver’s estate.

Perhaps the most common situation for a third-party claim is in construction site accidents. Often times these injuries or deaths result from faulty or defective equipment, tools or machinery. Even though the construction worker’s employer provides workers’ comp benefits to him, he can still pursue a civil lawsuit against the third-party equipment manufacturer for creating an unsafe or defective product. Third-party claims can also be brought against a general contractor or other subcontractors, as long as they aren’t the employer of the injured person.

Nobody Wins

In the event of a workplace death, nobody wins. The employees lose their lives, their families lose their loved ones, employers lose a member of their team and many different parties may end up being held accountable or punished for a person’s untimely death. If you recently lost your loved one in a workplace incident, you have legal rights and options as a family member. Contact an experienced Bay Area personal injury attorney to explore a wrongful death claim and hold those parties accountable for the death of your loved one.