Workers' compensation is not always the only remedy

Losing loved ones in workplace accidents can devastate any family. Although surviving family members in California can pursue financial relief through the workers' compensation insurance system, the full economic impact of such a loss is never entirely addressed by the death benefits the program offers. If a third party was involved in the death of a worker, the family might have grounds to file a civil lawsuit.

A jury recently awarded $30 million to the three children of a deceased worker who died in Oct. 2013 at the age of 34. He was caught in the conveyor belt's tail pulley at a recycling plant where he was cleaning loose rock and debris from the conveyor. Reportedly, there was no safeguard below the conveyor belt to prevent contact with the moving parts of the machine.

Also, there was no safety device fitted to the machine that would shut the motor down when the protective guard was not in place. If this were in place, it would work similarly as a dryer that deactivates if the door opens. Furthermore, the machine's design also lacked other safety devices such as a pull cord that could be used to shut the motor down immediately in the event of an emergency.

The jury allocated 70 percent of the fault to the manufacturer of the conveyor system, and the employer was found to be responsible for 30 percent. In a case such as this one, the family of the deceased worker might have received survivor's benefits from the California workers' compensation program after their loved one's death. However, they may have to repay those amounts after their receipt of the monetary award in civil court.

Source: NBC Los Angeles, "Jury Awards $30 Million in Fatal Grinder Machine Accident", March 19, 2018

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