Bumble Bee Foods has just agreed to a $6 million settlement in the death of a worker at its Sante Fe Springs plant to resolve a criminal prosecution of the company. The worker - Jose Melena - was loading tuna into the industrial ovens when he got trapped inside. The pressure cooker was then turned on, killing Melena. The settlement is the largest payout in a California work-place violation death.
According to reports, the company failed to have safety procedures in place that would have required that the equipment be turned off when an employee was inside, to have a spotter, or to provide an escape route.
A criminal proceeding in this matter charged Bumble Bee's Operations Director and former safety manager with three counts of violating Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) rules, leading to a death.
The family will receive $1.5 million of the $6 million in restitution. Generally, whenever a workplace accident occurs victims may recover California worker's compensation benefits. In certain situations, they may also pursue other potential civil remedies. This may occur where a third party may be at fault, such as an outside contractor or a manufacturer of a defective machine. Or, in this instance, criminal prosecution resulted in the above referenced restitution to the family.
Workplace violation prosecutions are fairly uncommon - even after deaths. Of 189 fatality investigations opened by the state in 2013, only 29 were referred to prosecutors and charges were only filed in 14 cases that year, according to state records.
A spokesperson noted, "I hope it sends a message that safety rules are not a recommendation, they are a legal requirement."
For more information, or if you or a loved one has been involved in a workplace accident, please contact the experienced Oakland personal injury lawyers at Butler Viadro, LLP for an immediate consultation.