Construction Fatality News: A Recent Tragedy and Criminal Charges in a 2-year-old Case

Seattle Construction Fatality Leads to Criminal Charges

2016 Construction fatality prompts prosecutors to file felony charges against company owner one week after another worker died at Seattle University.

Two years ago we told you about a tragic trench collapse at a West Seattle construction site. The Labor and Industries investigation revealed numerous violations of Washington’s safety rules. The violations and severity of the incident led prosecutors to file felony charges against the construction company’s owner:

Seattle Construction Fatality Leads to Criminal Charges

According to the Department of Labor and Industries, no company owner has ever faced felony manslaughter charges for a construction fatality until now.

In Washington every employer owes a duty to provide a safe workplace. This includes construction companies that operate one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Construction safety is so important in Washington that general contractors are responsible for the safety of every employee on the work site, even subcontractor employees. Workers’ compensation rules prohibit employees from bringing civil lawsuits against their employers, but when a construction worker is hurt or killed because another contractor – or the general contractor if the injured worker was a subcontractor employee – violated safety rules that contributed to the incident.

In this case the construction fatality appears to involve an employee of the general contractor, making a civil remedy unavailable. The workers’ family would not be entitled to full compensation, for example, for his lifetime of net earnings they will not now receive. The inadequacy of a regulatory fine, and the unavailability of a civil remedy, may have motivated prosecutors to step in to balance the scales of justice.

This year another tragedy struck – this time on the Seattle University campus, where a young subcontractor employee, 23-year-old Ray Estores, fell nine stories to his death when the fall prevention measures designed to prevent such an event failed:

Construction Fatality Seattle University

The general contractor on the site, Howard S. Wright Companies​, issued an appropriate statement: “We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our hearts go out to the family. We are working with L&I on the investigation and our number one concern is for the safety of our employees and the workers on site. We’re working to fully understand the situation and once we have that information we will share it.”

Under Washington law, if Ray Estores died because the Fall Prevention Program at the site was inadequate, or because Howard S. Wright didn’t enforce an otherwise appropriate plan, then the young man’s family may have the right to sue the company. But the laws pertaining to general contractor liability for subcontractor employee injuries and deaths are incredibly complex, and the laws about who has the right to sue when someone dies, and for what, are also complex. If there is justice to be had in the Superior Courts for the Estores family, they have a long hard fight ahead of them.

Responses to “Construction Fatality News: A Recent Tragedy and Criminal Charges in a 2-year-old Case”

  1. Doug Allen Says:

    Thank you

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