An appeals court judge says the law clearly allows a manager to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a worker. The court upheld a construction manager’s conviction and jail sentence as a result.
A California jury found Dan Luo guilty of involuntary manslaughter and three counts of willfully violating an occupational safety or health order causing death. A judge sentenced Luo to two years in prison.
Luo appealed, arguing California’s law was vague because it doesn’t sufficiently spell out that supervisory employees, in addition to employers, may be prosecuted for willful violations of safety regulations.
But the appeals court said the plain language of the law “provides clean notice that both employers and supervisory employees are criminally liable for violating a safety regulation.” The law includes “any employee having direction, management, control, or custody of any employment, place of employment, or of any other employee.”
Luo also argued under California’s law anyone working on a construction site could face criminal enforcement. But the court said the law limits criminal enforcement to employers and employees who “exercise direction, management, and control.”
The court’s decision has been certified for publication, which means it sets a precedent in California.
Ignored ‘Stop Work Notice’
Luo worked as a project manager for Richard Liu, a real estate agent and licensed general contractor.
On Jan. 25, 2012, an inspector from the City of Milpitas issued “Stop work Notice” to Luo for construction work on a house. Luo didn’t tell any of the workers on the construction site about the notice and didn’t tell anyone to stop working.
Two days after the notice was delivered, Luo told employees to work on a hallway excavation that had a 12-foot high, unsupported dirt wall with an overhanging ledge.
The next day, employee Raul Zapata, 39, was working on the end of the hallway excavation when its wall collapsed directly on top of him, crushing his skull and killing him.
The situation around the trench was so dangerous that rescuers couldn’t remove Zapata’s body until two days later.
Company owner Liu was also convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison. He appealed, but the appeal was dismissed at his request.
Cal/OSHA fined Liu’s company $168,175 for failure to:
- provide Zapata and other workers with required head protection
- shore excavation walls
- have a competent person for excavation, and
- obtain workers’ compensation insurance.
(The People v. Dan Luo, Court of Appeal of California Sixth Dist., No. H042668, 10/25/17)