Workers’ Compensation Claim or Civil Lawsuit — or Both?

It was recently reported that the president of a California engineering and construction company along with a project manager and a foreman would be facing criminal charges over the death of an employee in 2016. It was not reported whether the worker’s surviving family has sought financial relief through the civil justice system with regard to the workplace accident. That potential claim would be separate from the death benefits that they likely claimed from the state’s workers’ compensation insurance system.

The workers’ compensation program is a no-fault system, meaning that benefits can be sought regardless of whether the worker or the employer was at fault. This is intended to keep employers from facing a civil lawsuit every time a worker is injured. However, if there is proof of gross negligence by the employer, the injured worker, or the surviving family members of a deceased worker may pursue additional financial recovery through the civil justice system.

Investigators from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and from the office of the San Francisco District Attorney determined that criminal charges were appropriate. The very nature of the charges suggests gross negligence on the part of the employer. A Cal/OSHA report indicates that the defendants allowed an employee to operate a steamroller although he had never been trained for this task. He failed to maintain control of the massive machine and ran over a co-worker who did not survive the incident.

The three defendants now face involuntary manslaughter charges along with felony labor code violations. In similar situations, a consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney might be the logical step for a deceased victim’s surviving family members. In addition to navigating a survivors’ benefits claim through the workers’ comp system, the attorney might also suggest pursuing a wrongful death claim in a California civil court.