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Fifth worker involved in scaffolding incident sues for damages

Last week, I wrote about the incident in which five migrant workers fell 13 storeys when a platform collapsed on Christmas Eve, 2009. Four died instantly, but one survived. This fifth worker, who suffered grave injuries, has now launched a civil suit for damages.

Who is he suing?

dollar-eyeThe sole survivor is suing his employer—the constructor—and the company that supplied the platform which collapsed, along with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, for $16.3 million in damages.

The 22-year-old worker, who had only been in Canada for a couple of months prior to the accident, argues that these parties owed him a duty to keep him safe, and they failed to exercise that duty.

As a result of the accident, the worker spent months in the hospital, and suffered severe injuries involving crushed legs and a broken spine. Now out of hospital, he is in significant pain and can barely walk.

What’s more, the estate of one of the deceased workers has also sued the same parties for $14 million. In line with the sole survivor’s arguments, this statement of claim argues that the ministry was responsible for monitoring the site and making sure the parties charged were properly carrying out their duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The next step in these proceedings is the submission of defence statements by the parties who were sued.

This news came shortly after the ministry laid several charges carrying fines of up to $17 million against the employer/constructor and platform supplier. There were also charges against executives and supervisors.

More specifically, of the 61 charges:

  • 30 were against the constructor/employer
  • 16 were against an individual director of the constructor/employer company
  • Eight were laid against an individual supervisor of the constructor/employer company
  • Four charges were laid against the supplier of the suspended platform company
  • Three charges were laid against an individual director of the supplier of the suspended platform company

Maximum penalties for the corporations are $500,000 per conviction. For individuals, the maximum penalties are $25,000 per conviction and up to a year in prison. Hearings for this matter begin on September 30, 2010.

Interestingly, a criminal investigation has also commenced. There is a question as to whether the companies involved will be tried under the Criminal Code, particularly section 217.1, which states, “Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task”. This means organizations and individuals who fail to safeguard workplace health and safety can be criminally liable and experience even more severe consequences than those found under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Time will tell as to how this turns out.

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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