Archaic Law Delivers Wrist Slaps to Companies that Kill Workers in Massachusetts

What are the penalties for an accidental worker death in Massachusetts? According to a law written in 1819 that is still in force today, employers found guilty of manslaughter in workplace accidents face up to 20 years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Companies convicted of manslaughter face the same $1,000 fine.

In other words, the maximum criminal liability for killing a worker is $2,000. Civil liability for wrongful death can be much higher, but civil settlements are often paid by insurance companies, leaving a negligent employer with little more than a higher monthly premium as a penalty for killing an employee.

A $2,000 penalty may have been intimidating in 1819, but it can hardly be said to have deterrent value in 2017, amounting to little more than a pocket-change slap on the wrist for multimillion-dollar companies that repeatedly endanger their employees.

At Sheff Law, we believe that criminal penalties should act as a deterrent to negligent behavior. State Senator Jennifer Flanagan of Leominster agrees, having introduced bill SD.920, which would increase the fine to $250,000 for corporate manslaughter and bar convicted companies from getting contracts with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 10 years. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has made the bill one of her top priorities, according to

The legislation is in focus right now because of the Atlantic Drain Service tragedy last October, where two workers were killed after a water main break flooded a trench. An investigation found that Atlantic Drain Service had failed to follow required safety rules for the job, and a subsequent investigation led to a grand jury indictment against the company’s owner for falsifying signatures on safety training certificates.

The allegations against this employer illustrate how the current system fails workers. Most employers are concerned with the safety of their workers and follow the rules, but for the few who do not, Massachusetts must step up and present real penalties to bring them in line.

Sheff Law has extensive experience helping people and families impacted by workplace accidents. If you or someone close to you has been hurt or killed on the job, we encourage you to reach out to us for a free consultation. Call us at 1-888-423-4477 or contact us online.

Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

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