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Workplace accidents: Tuna plant fatality leads to $6M settlement

On-the-job accidents in California are not unusual as many workers are exposed to hazards while they are working in different industries. Unfortunately, a significant number of workplace accidents -- some of them fatal -- result from companies and supervising staff failing to comply with the safety regulations prescribed for each industry. One such a case of employer's negligence led to a criminal case in which a plea agreement was recently reached.

The case involved the death of a 62-year-old worker at a tuna processing plant. He was working inside a large oven, likely doing repairs, when another worker pushed in a trolley containing cans of tuna. This worker did not see the other one in the oven and closed the door upon his exit. The oven's pressure-cooking cycle was started, leaving the worker inside exposed to a temperature of 270 degrees. His badly burnt body was only discovered when the oven was opened after the completion of the cooking cycle.

Criminal charges filed against the company, and the highest ever plea agreement for workplace safety violations in California was reached. According to the agreement, the company has to spend $3 million on replacing the outdated ovens with new automated ones and pay $1.5 million to the court system and the state government. A further $1.5 million must be paid to the surviving family members of the worker who died in such tragic circumstances.

Criminal charges following workplace accidents are rare and typically reserved for egregious instances of wrongdoing. In the meantime, California families who have lost loved ones in workplace accidents will have to settle bills related to end-of-life arrangements while also having to cope without the income of the deceased worker. Fortunately, the workers' compensation insurance fund is designed to provide benefits to the family dependents of a worker killed in an on-the-job accident. The death benefits provided typically cover the costs of a funeral and burial as well as a financial package to assist the immediate family with living expenses and monthly obligations.

Source: USA Today, "Bumble Bee forced to pay $6M for worker cooked alive", Neal Colgrass, Aug. 13, 2015

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