The number of employee deaths in New York has been a hot topic in the past two years, especially in the construction industry where a boom in business has lead to an increase in workplace accidents.
Part of the problem is that there haven’t been serious enough consequences for employers who are more concerned with their profits than they are the safety of their employees. Although every single death at a workplace is investigated by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, the fact is that in most cases, regardless of the actions of the employer, only fines are issued, and even those fines are considered minimal when compared to a life.
There has been a significant push for stricter punishments when an employer chooses to ignore a dangerous workplace and recently, a construction company owner became one of the first to face serious charges.
Wall Collapse Kills An 18-Year-Old Employee
Could you imagine watching your child grow up, turn 18-years-old, legally becoming an adult, only to have them ripped away, their life cut short because their employer decided to ignore multiple safety warnings?
That’s exactly what happened in the case of Fernando Vanegaz, whose life was taken too soon.
In September of 2015, Michael Weiss the owner of RSBY NY Builders and Park Ave Builders Inc, hired Vanegaz and several other workers to excavate an area where a one-story building was going to be replaced with a five-story building. He assigned Vanegaz and the others to work in a rear part of the work area, an area which was NOT included in the permit he had obtained from the Department of Buildings.
Several of the employees noticed that the wall they were working on had a crack and wasn’t properly secured. They requested additional materials to support the wall but were ignored by their employer. Not long after these requests were made, the wall collapsed on top of Vanegaz and two other employees.
Vanegas sustained a traumatic brain injury, lacerations to his head, and broken legs. The trauma he sustained caused his healthy heart to go into cardiac arrest and he died at the scene. Both of the other two workers also sustained serious injuries, one fracturing his hip and lumbar vertebra, the other fracturing his skull, vertebra, nose, orbital bones, and ribs. Both have required multiple surgeries and are plagued by constant pain.
Employer Faces Manslaughter Charges
After a review of the accident, OSHA issued a $77,000 fine for failure to follow safety procedures. In addition to this, it has been alleged that Weiss hired another company to apply for building permits, that he failed to obtain the necessary workers’ compensation insurance coverage, and that he has committed workers’ compensation fraud.
With the information found during the investigation, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office charged Weiss with criminally negligent homicide, assault, reckless endangerment, tax fraud, grand larceny, falsifying business records, and workers’ comp fraud. If found guilty, he may spend up to 15 years in prison.
While nothing can bring back the life of the 18-year-old victim, hopefully, other New York employers will learn that they can and will be held responsible for their employee’s deaths if they chose to ignore safety standards.
Workers’ Compensation Is Required
In New York, all employers are required by law to obtain the necessary workers’ compensation insurance coverage which should provide compensation for medical expenses and lost wages when an employee is harmed. In exchange for having this policy, employers are protected from personal injury lawsuits filed by their injured employee.
If an employer fails to obtain a policy, they may face fines and of course, could be named as the defendant in a lawsuit, because no workplace accident victim should be made financially destitute due to their employer’s decision.