In late April 2019, Governor Eric Holcomb of Indiana signed new legislation into law that allows willfully negligent employers to be sued for safety violations in their workplaces that lead to the death of an employee. As of July 1, 2019, employers who have been found to have willfully violated safety standards can be fined up to $132,000 for each violation.
The idea for this bill came from the death of a 23-year-old female employee, Shacarra Hogue, in January 2018. Hogue was employed by Fort Wayne Plastics at the time of her death. While Hogue was retrieving product in a large machine, a coworker unknowingly switched the machine on, leading to Hogue’s death. According to investigators, the machine was never intended for people to enter, but it appears that members of Fort Wayne Plastics knowingly removed many of the safety features, making it possible for humans to enter the machine. Ultimately, the company had to pay a $6,300 fine, which sparked outrage across the state.
Holding Companies Accountable
According to Representative Martin Carbaugh of Fort Wayne, such an inexpensive fine is simply not enough to dissuade other companies from acting negligently in their efforts to prevent deaths in the workplace.
“I want to put a big enough penalty in place that if [employers] even think about being careless, if they don’t care about human life, maybe they will care about the pocketbook,” Carbaugh stated. “For those who would skirt safety for profit or otherwise, I want there to be a big financial penalty over their heads if they are making those decisions.”
Although companies who are found to have blatantly disregarded the safety of their workers must now face more substantial fines, the families of those who are killed on the job are still unable to file a claim against the employer directly. Instead, they can try to pursue damages from a third-party, such as an equipment manufacturer, whose faulty products contributed to death in some manner.
To learn more about workers’ compensation matters in Indiana, reach out to Ooley Law today by calling (812) 567-3848 to speak to a dedicated and experienced attorney.