Wrongful Death Accountability Act

April 29th, 2004 by

Eleven years ago, in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, nineteen year old Patrick Hayes died instantly when 60 tons of corn collapsed on top of him. His father, Ron, from Fairhope, Alaska, has been trying ever since to give tangible meaning to his son’s death by doing all in his power to convince Congress that it should give prosecutors the right to bring criminal cases against employers for “wilfull” neglect causing death in the workplace.

Ron Hayes was in Washington this week to lobby for a proposal by Sens. Jon Corzine, D-N.J. and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. that would do just that. Their Wrongful Death Accountability Act would criminalize wilfull neglect that results in death and allow prison terms of up to ten years upon conviction. Currently, conviction carries a misdemeanor penalty of up to six months in prison.

Not suprisingly, the administration and republican leaders are dead against the Corzine-Kennedy proposal. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans called it “just another policy to destroy jobs.” While, in a statement that may come to haunt him someday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the proposal would be “the worst thing that you could do – telling a small business person that they could go to prison over an OSHA violation.’‘ Well, as noted above, they already can.
More than likely, the Corzine-Kennedy bill will fail to pass. After all, OSHA points out that workplace deaths in America have been falling over the years. But how many deaths are acceptable. And should employers be held harmless for their wilfull negligence resulting in death on the job?