Employer found guilty of criminal negligence causing the death of an employee
In a recent decision of the Court of Quebec, Mr. Pasquale Scrocca, a landscape contractor, was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death of one of his employees. While performing landscaping work at a commercial building, Mr. Scrocca was operating a backhoe, when the brakes of the vehicle failed and he collided into the employee. Experts confirmed that the vehicle was 30 years old, very poorly maintained and that the brakes were completely non-functional.
Ultimately, the Court concluded that, in neglecting to perform maintenance on the backhoe, Mr. Scrocca markedly departed from the standard of care expected of a prudent and diligent person. As such, Mr. Scrocca was found guilty under Section 219 of the Criminal Code (Canada), which provides that a person that shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of another person in omitting to do anything that is his duty is criminally negligent. The Court also invoked Subsection 217.1 of the Criminal Code, which provides that everyone who undertakes or has the authority to direct how another person does work is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person. Section 217.1 of the Criminal Code was introduced in 2004 with the objective of ensuring the health and safety of employees in the workplace and imposing a legal obligation upon those people responsible for supervising work performed. This provision complements Section 51 of An Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety (Quebec), which provides that every employer must take the necessary measures to protect the health and ensure the safety and physical well-being of its workers. Moreover, the Criminal Code provides that organizations may be held liable when acts or omissions by their representatives are clearly negligent.
In this case, Mr. Scrocca was sentenced to pay costs and respect certain conditions, failing which he would be liable for imprisonment of two years. The Criminal Code provides that in the case of criminal negligence causing death, the maximum penalty for individuals is life in prison and there is no maximum fine for organizations.
This case serves as a reminder to employers and their senior officers and representatives of the significant liability that may be incurred as a result of breaches of occupational health and safety standards.