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Minnesota workplace accident brings OSHA penalties

The reported story carries a chilling anecdote. One night a construction worker told his wife that he had a bad feeling about his job and did not want to go into work the next day. As fate would dictate, the man died the next day at work when he was crushed to death by a backhoe. Minnesota law provides the man's spouse with death benefits for a workplace accident under the worker's compensation laws. It also provides the possibility that a defect in the backhoe might lead to a tort claim on a products liability theory, which could possibly provide additional monetary compensation to the decedent's family, including for pain and suffering.

The Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently cited the decedent's employer, a construction firm based in Jordan, with two violations totaling $28,500 in fines. The firm is reportedly appealing the citations. Both citations were called 'serious', which in OSHA terminology means that death or physical harm has resulted or would reasonably be expected to result from a workplace accident caused by the violation.

The bulk of the fines dealt with a 'general duty' violation for wrongdoing not specifically prohibited in a particular provision of the regulations. It's more in the form of an obvious violation of common sense safety precautions. OSHA's formal investigation is reportedly not yet finished, leaving a lack of details on what specifically caused the man's death in this workplace accident.

In Minnesota, death in a workplace accident activates workers' compensation death benefits to the family, regardless of who was at fault. However, in some cases, fault should be determined to see if there is a separate claim available against a third party for damages under a theory of strict liability for defective products. Some backhoes and front-end loaders have been known to cause workplace accidents due to balance and stability defects, making the manufacturers and sellers liable. However, the cause of these accidents is often the driver's and not the machine, so that an investigation must first be made.

Source: Mendota Heights, MN Patch, "Firm Fined $28,500 in Death of Fort Snelling Construction Worker Crushed by Backhoe," Zac Farber, April 8, 2013

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