Contractor Sentenced to Three Years in Prison Following Employee Death
December 17, 2019
On November 3, 2017, Gerardo Juarez began his first day of work for James Coon Construction. The next day Juarez fell from a roof he was repairing, suffering injuries which later proved fatal. Following the accident, James Coon, owner of Coon Construction, pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and workers’ compensation fraud and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Coon Construction was hired to repair a roof at a three-story apartment complex in Akron, Ohio. New-hire Juarez was placed on the crew tasked with making the repairs. After two years of criminal litigation following the accident, it was discovered Coon did not provide Juarez with safety equipment adequate for work performed at such height, which is a felony. Evidence suggested that his fall could have been prevented had he been wearing adequate fall protection. Coon also failed to provide workers’ compensation coverage, another felony.
Criminal prosecution for failure to provide a safe environment for employees is an increasing trend. Federal law requires employers to instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the systems applicable to his or her work environment to control any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury. Failure to follow applicable safety laws and provide workers’ compensation insurance as required by law can expose employers to possible criminal action.
Reporting Fraudulent Information to the Workers’ Compensation Board Results in Criminal Charges
December 12, 2019
Lying to the workers’ compensation authorities in order to reduce premiums can result in criminal charges. On September 5, 2019, Manhattan D.A. and other New York state investigators announced the indictment of unlicensed labor broker Salvador Almonte and insurance broker Steven Asvasadourian on multiple fraud charges after they were caught in a scheme which included lying to the New York State Insurance Fund about the status and work of construction employees. Almonte and his accomplice underreported the size of Almonte’s companies and lied to insurance carriers about the type of work being performed to evade more than $1 million dollars in insurance premiums. In doing so, the pair left more than one hundred construction workers underinsured. In one instance, Almonte claimed that workers he sent to perform dangerous tasks on high-rise construction projects were cleaners, thereby drastically lowering the premium rates he paid. Investigators found that more than 12 of Almonte’s workers have been injured in the past four years, one fatally, and Almonte refused to acknowledge to the New York Workers’ Compensation Board that he was their employer.
While this case illustrates extreme examples of fraud in the workers’ compensation system, the exposure to potential criminal liability for fraudulently reporting information to the workers’ compensation board is a legitimate, serious consequence of such actions.
Property Owners Afforded Extra Protection from Claims of Independent Contractors
December 10, 2019
The Supreme Court of Texas has extended protections for property owners to claims for negligent hiring.
The case involved an oil field worker who died from injuries he sustained while working on a drill site. His estate sued Endeavor Energy Resources, property owner, claiming Endeavor negligently hired the injured person’s employer. Endeavor argued Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code barred the claims. Chapter 95 protects property owners from liability for injuries to independent contractors who modify improvements to real property assuming the property owner does not actually know about the dangerous condition which caused the injury.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Endeavor by extending it Chapter 95 protections. In doing so, the Court recognized negligent hiring involves two instances of negligence: the hiring itself and the negligent act. The Court concluded the negligent act alleged in this instance “arose from the use” of an improvement to real property and therefore Endeavor should be protected by the statute. Consequently, the Court reversed the court of appeals and broadened Chapter 95’s purview to exclude claims for negligent hiring against property owners.
This case is important for property owners as it limits the causes of action that can be asserted against them by parties injured on their property. Further, it shows the Court’s commitment to preserving the broad protection afforded by this statute.