Court Says Employer Knowingly Endangered Employee

A federal appeals court upholds the conviction of an Idaho employer charged with knowingly endangering the life of a worker.

Employers have been known to order employees to perform jobs that are dirty, difficult, and sometimes, dangerous. Sometimes, the employees suffer injuries as a result.

In the case of Scott Dominguez, an employee of Evergreen Resources Inc. in Idaho, doing what was asked of him by his employer almost proved fatal.

In 1996, his employer, Allen Elias, ordered Dominguez to wash down the sides of an 11-foot-high, 36-foot-long, 25,000-gallon tank containing phosphoric acid and cyanide. That chemical cocktail produces the gas used by the Nazis in the World War II death camps.

Dominguez collapsed in the tank and had to wait for rescue for over an hour. He suffered severe brain damage and requires extensive care.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) alleged that Elias did not provide employees with safety training and did not provide personal protective equipment.

In 1999, Elias, who claimed that it was an accident and that he was not responsible, was charged in federal court with knowingly endangering the safety of his employees. He was also convicted of illegally disposing of cyanide waste and making a false statement to OSHA.

Elias was sentenced to a 17-year prison term, the harshest ever imposed for an environmental crime in the United States, and was ordered to pay Dominguez and his family $6.3 million. Elias appealed.

Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled to uphold his conviction.

Elias managed to avoid the $6.3 million recitation payment. The appeals court ruled that Elias'' conviction is among "the few for which Congress has not sanctioned the imposition of restitution."

by Sandy Smith

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