Wednesday, January 25, 2006

$7.25 Million Award For Death Of Window Washer

Last month, Kansas City Star reporterMike Casey began his series on the ineffectiveness of OSHA enforcement with the story of 25 year old window washer Les James, who, after less than an hour into his first day on the job, fell to his death. OSHA cited the company, Quality Window Washing, for failing to provide James with a safety line or a guardrail and for not securing the window-washing rig to the roof. The company also was cited for failing to attach the window washers’ lifelines to a secure point on the hospital’s roof, separately from the rig.

Quality Window Cleaning was fined a whopping $2700.

But yesterday, justice was served:

On Tuesday, a Jackson County judge awarded James’ family $7.25 million in a wrongful-death case tried without a jury.

Judge Charles Atwell found Brian Mannschreck, owner of Quality Window Cleaning Inc. of Kansas City, negligent for providing no training, inadequate equipment and unsafe working conditions.

The judge also noted in his ruling that Mannschreck had agreed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to provide training after another of his window washers fell and died in 1996.

Or at least justice was served for the James family. Quality Window Cleaning had also killed an employee in a similar incident in 1996, and another two years after James. Mannschreck blamed both accidents on "employee error" and there were no OSHA penalties in either case.

Justice is fickle.

It's unclear to me how the James family got around Workers Compensation laws which generally prohibit workers or their families from suing their employer. Exceptions have been made in some states where gross negligence has been shown. Now sure what the reasoning was in this case, but given the slim chance that OSHA penalties will ever be high enough to actually deter most employers from endangering their workers, it would clearly be nice to see more of these verdicts.