It’s not often that the Ohio Supreme Court makes a ruling that has the potential to reshape workers’ compensation law, as it did recently in a case argued by Graham Law’s Robert McClelland.
That case involved the tragic death of Christopher McDonald in a trench collapse accident and his fiancé’s long court battle to win dependency benefits. But lost in the legal arguments was a story of safety regulation failures that continues to play out at worksites across the state and the country.
Marysville Trench Collapse Accident Claims McDonald’s Life
In April, emergency personnel in Mentor, Ohio responded to a 911 call about a trench collapse. They arrived on the scene to find a man trapped under 3.5 feet of soil. Luckily, they were able to extricate him in time and he was flown to Cleveland for evaluation.
Christopher McDonald was not so lucky. On April 8, 2019, McDonald was working in a 20-foot trench on a project to relocate a water line in Marysville, Ohio when the trench collapsed. Rescuers worked for hours to recover his body. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
McDonald was “walking through the trench when it collapsed on top of him and asphyxiated him,” according to OSHA.
The Union County Coroner said at the time that the trench was not properly supported, while the Marysville Fire Chief said trench frames were at the construction site but not being used.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the trench collapse that claimed McDonald’s life. OSHA ended up citing McDonald’s employer, J&J Schlaegel, for three safety violations, including a repeat violation. J&J Schlaegel was previously fined for a serious trench safety violation in 2015, OSHA records show.
Trench Collapses Common—And Entirely Preventable
McDonald was “walking through the trench when it collapsed on top of him and asphyxiated him,” according to OSHA’s investigation summary.
Just two days earlier, an Ohio plumbing contractor was killed when a trench collapsed on him. His employer, like McDonald’s, had been fined by OSHA in the past for trench safety violations.
These were far from isolated incidents. Between April 2 and April 10 of 2019, the fatal accident in Marysville that killed McDonald was one of five trench deaths that occurred.
From 2011 to 2018, 166 workers died from cave-ins from trenching or excavating. Last year, OSHA reported 39 trench deaths, including two in Ohio. It was the deadliest year in nearly two decades for trench collapses, more than doubling the number in 2021.
This spring, OSHA launched an outreach campaign targeted at the Midwest region. The goal of the campaign is to reduce and prevent injuries and fatalities related to trenching and excavation work.
OSHA also has a national program emphasizing trench/excavation collapses. As part of the program, OSHA plans to conduct more than 1,000 trench inspections nationwide. OSHA performed 311 trenching and excavation inspections across Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin in 2022.
OSHA says that trench collapses are entirely preventable when proper safety measures are followed. For example, to prevent collapses, OSHA standards require soil tests, protective systems, daily inspections, and employee trench safety training.
Trench collapses and other worksite accidents that cause fatalities lead to OSHA investigations. However, the agency also conducts inspections without notice, often due to employee complaints about unsafe conditions.
Legal Representation For Injured Ohio Workers and Their Families
In addition to fines, OSHA violations can result in criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits, such as a wrongful death lawsuit. They can also raise workers’ compensation issues like the case that came out of McDonald’s death.
These issues can stem not only from benefits paid to injured workers, but benefits paid to the dependents of a worker killed on the job as well. In some cases, workers’ compensation matters must be appealed in court—even all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Injured workers and their loved ones may have recourse to several types of compensation. From filing an initial claim to making an appeal to representing you in the state’s highest court, the Graham Law family of lawyers is here for your family.