Friday, June 4, 2010

Criminal Charges for Industrial Fatatlies in Michigan

The State of Michigan has filed criminal charges against a masonry contractor at a University of Michigan construction project in the wake of the death of a worker who plummeted 40 feet off an unguarded scaffolding.  According to a report at, Davenport Masonry operates as a criminally dangerous contractor and yet it continues its work on the elite Michigan campus.

This is from Juliana Keeping's article:

"A Michigan masonry company has been criminally charged in the death of a journeyman who fell from scaffolding while working on a University of Michigan construction project.

In a felony criminal complaint filed in Washtenaw County District Court, the Michigan Attorney General's Office charged Holt-based Davenport Masonry with violating the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act, causing the death of an employee.

[T}he complaint, filed in April, [alleges] the company failed to create hazard-free work place, which caused the February 2008 death of Leo Felty, Jr.  Felty died in February 2008 after falling 40 feet from scaffolding while working on the $42 million U-M Museum of Art addition. The Pinckney man stepped backward off an unguarded end of the scaffolding and died on impact, according to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation report."
It is rare that criminal charges are filed in occupational injury and fatalities although we should expect more of this after the astounding Massey Coal Mine and DeepWater Oil Platform disasters.  Any idea, why?

Let me suggest that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of non-regulation and the scaling back on civil remedies for injured workers and their families.  In OurState, the business-friendly legislature and Supremes steadily circumscribed the rights of injured workers to hold employers liable for near-criminal conduct.  When heinous injuries do occur community and societal outrage can only be expressed by resort to criminal prosecutions.  If civil remedies were available would there be the clamoring for the sorts of criminal prosecutions we now demand of BP, Massey Coal, and these contractors who find it convenient not to insist on basic safety procedures?  I doubt it.

Previously, on Bad Lawyer, I talked about my client who suffered severed electric shock while performing maintenance at an electrical substation.  The employer in that case killed two prior employees (including their own daughter!) through the same practices that maimed my client.  The legal liability under the law of OurState at this time required that we demonstrate that the practices that injured my client were "substantially certain to cause injury."  OurState's law-givers, in response to the business lobbyists including the Chamber of Commerce, thought this "intentional tort" law too onerous.  After several re-draftings were "stuck down" by the Supremes, OurState Big Business interests finally were able to buy enough Supreme Court justices to have the legislative reform of this statutory "reform" upheld in a recent ruling. 

I await the next scandalous killing of a worker by an OurState employer, let's see how long it takes for an angry electorate to demand criminal prosecution of the industrial culprit.  You see, in our system money is justice, or else.

1 comment:

  1. How does one initiate a criminal complaint against a branch of local government that refuses to investigate the complaint because the investigation involves investigating local government's own law enforcement?