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Wisconsin law limits employer liability for work accident deaths

Employers are always concerned about compliance to work safety standards. Different industries often have their own set of work safety compliance laws designed to avoid a work accident. Some may be more complicated than others. Many employers in Wisconsin are fear punishment from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. However, there is a question of OSHA's power to punish those employers found in violation of standards.

A recent study of 240 workplace fatalities in Wisconsin revealed that OSHA rarely pursues heavy penalties for employers when their workers die on the job. OSHA will even negotiate for lesser fines than those originally issued in some cases. The study was conducted over a period of 11 years by Gannett Wisconsin Media.

Unfortunately for the workers' families, they are not allowed to pursue the employers for damages due to a Wisconsin law that stops them from suing for wrongful death. Instead, an employer's liability is limited to the cost of funeral services and a death benefit. A company is even protected from being sued for its own negligence. This can be frustrating for the families of the victims who feel that a higher value should be placed on a human life.

Employers who are found to be liable for violating safety standards will not pay more than the maximum of $15,000 penalty to beneficiaries. Fines for funeral costs are capped at $10,000, while the death benefit is four times the employee's yearly salary. However, the death benefits cannot exceed $256,000, according to Wisconsin law. This would mean that the family of an employee making $10 per hour who dies in a work accident would be paid roughly $80,000 in death benefits. When a Wisconsin worker is injured or killed on the job, it is imperative to work with a professional to determine exactly what the individual or his or her family is entitled to under the law.

Source: Wausau Daily Herald, "Wisconsin companies face little penalty from OSHA when workers die," Nick Penzenstadler, July 21, 2012

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