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Families can’t sue for workplace fatalities; check database

Posted on 25 July 2012 by admin

Brandan Kalmerton was 26 when he was killed on the job in 2010.

He had been repairing a drill head that had failed in a trench near U.S. 41 in Oshkosh. His family and friends suspected immediately that safety rules hadn’t been followed. They were right.

Federal safety regulators inspected the scene and filed a final report six months after the incident that cited four violations they called “serious.”

Kalmerton and one of his Northwest Cable Construction coworkers — Paul Tijan, 37, of Gale — were working in a trench more than 9 feet deep and 4½ feet wide. The safety “trench box” they were in — built to prevent cave-ins — was only 6 feet tall, leaving 3 feet unprotected.


Database: Search OSHA inspection results on fatal work site accidents in Wisconsin from 2000 to 2010.


Kalmerton and Tijan heard the wall of gravel and dirt shifting above them. In an instant, tons of earth crashed down, partially burying them both.

The weight crushed Kalmerton, breaking his ribs and fracturing his skull. The Oshkosh man died at the scene.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued four fines totaling $13,200, but Northwest Cable promised to address safety problems and negotiated a deal to reduce the fines to $9,000.

The company’s experience is not unusual. The largest fine in a Gannett Wisconsin Media review of 240 workplace fatalities in Wisconsin over 11 years was a $117,000 payment by Lapham-Hickey Steel Corp. of Oshkosh in 2006, issued after a 28-year-old man was crushed by a 2,700-pound bundle of steel. The original fine of $217,000 was reduced through negotiations.


Even in the case of a death, Wisconsin law forbids employees’ families from suing employers for wrongful death. Their liability is limited to paying a death benefit and funeral costs.

That comes as a result of the deals cut in the landmark 1911 Wisconsin workers’ compensation law, the first in the nation, which provided unprecedented worker protection and rights but conceded the right to sue.


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