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It's a crime only if the victim dies?

University of Michigan professor David Uhlmann authored a recent editorial describing his time as a Federal Prosecutor and noting the flaw in worker safety legislation:  a criminally culpable employer can be charged with a criminal offense only if an employee dies.  Causing death is a misdemeanor; causing permanent serious harm is not punishable.

Uhlmann described a particularly reprehensible case that he investigated in Idaho where the employer, a wealthy lawyer and private school graduate (Wharton, in fact) deliberately endangered young workers by assigning them to clean a 25,000 gallon cyanide waste tank without proper safety equipment (without ANY safety equipment, to be precise).  When the employees objected to the lack of safety equipment, the boss gave them a choice of cleaning the tank or giving up their job.

One 20 year old was eventually removed from the tank with severe cyanide poisoning that left him permanently, severely disabled.  He suffers from brain damage and bodily rigidity similar to severe Parkinson's Disease.  Obviously he will never work again, he will never have a normal family life and taxpayers will pick up the substantial lifetime cost of his care.  Yet, his employer could not be punished for the callous behavior that injured the man.  Even had he died, the employer would have been punishable only as a minor misdemeanor with a maximum of several months' jail time.

When one weighs the culpability and ramifications of this man's behavior against other federal punishments and penalties, the penalties [or lack of penalties] for maiming or killing an employee need to be revisited. Uhlmann noted that about 6,000 workers die on the job each year, with many more catastrophic injuries.  His experience, like ours, is that many of these injuries and deaths are preventable.  To add insult to injury, in Michigan, the employee not only CANNOT sue his employer for gross negligence or wanton misconduct, any recovery he can achieve from anyone else with contributing fault goes first to re-pay his employer's workers comp lien.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
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