An Omaha business is facing federal criminal charges in connection with the death of two employees in 2015.
Adrian LaPour and Dallas Foulk were killed on April 14, 2015 due to a fire in started by chemicals in a rail tanker car that they were cleaning. They were working for Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services which had a long history of OSHA violations.
The criminal charges in this case stem from obstructing the investigation of the accident and violating federal safety rules rather than the death of the employee. In the rare cases where employers are prosecuted for workplace deaths, those types of charges are typical. Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted in 2016 for violating federal mine safety rules in connection with the death of 29 miners in West Virginia in 2010.
The charges provided some sense of psychic justice for the longtime girlfriend of one the victims. That sense of psychic justice is often missing in work injury cases where an employer is at fault. Workers compensation benefits are limited, OSHA fines are often almost laughable and negligence cases may be difficult to prove. Even if a family can get a sizeable amount of money for a workplace death of a loved one, money is not a perfect substitute for the loss of a loved one. A criminal prosecution can help address emotional needs in a way a civil or administrative sanction can’t.
Criminal prosecutions also deter wrongful conduct by corporations and their owners. Rod Rehm practiced criminal law in the 1970s and 1980s before focusing on workers compensation and personal injury cases. He has spoken out in favor prosecuting employers for manslaughter in connection with workplace deaths and criminal prosecution for employers who don’t carry workers compensation insurance. I commend Nebraska’s U.S Attorney, Joe Kelly, for exercising his prosecutorial discretion and charging the owners of Nebraska Railcar Cleaining Services.
h/t to www.fairwarning.com for their reporting.