May 16, 2015

The recent news stories about Hollywood Director Randall Miller’s guilty plea relating to the death of Sarah Jones, during the filming of the Gregg Allman biographical movie Midnight Rider left me with two questions: One, is this the start of a trend in Georgia whereby prosecutors will investigate worksite deaths and serious injuries in order to prosecute management for manslaughter and battery? Or, is this selective prosecution of the worst kind? I fear it is the latter, but hope it is the former.

A large part of my practice is devoted to representing workers who are injured on the job, and the families of workers who are killed. While my particular practice focuses on third party claims (such as those relating to defective products) instead of workers compensation, I nevertheless have been involved in numerous cases involving workplace deaths and catastrophic injuries wherein management had far more culpability than did Mr. Miller. Yet, not a single manager or owner has ever been prosecuted for their role in causing the employees injuries in any of my cases. This is true even though in many instances the fines levied by OSHA, and the level of intent, vastly exceeded that involved in the death of Sarah Jones. No one can possibly argue that Randall Miller intended for Ms. Jones to die, or for any of his film crew to be injured. In fact, a close look at the facts might lead many to believe that his reliance on the property owner, and the railroad’s failure to follow its own safety rules, were a larger part of the cause than was Mr. Miller’s actions. Yet, he was prosecuted while the countless managers who intentionally remove safety guards, or intentionally expose workers to dangerous chemicals, or require workers to descend into un-shored trenches, simply pay OSHA and let workers compensation take care of the mess they created. And unlike the owners and managers who expose their workers to dangers from the safety of their corner offices, Mr. Miller was actually out on the track with his crew.

Have any of our District Attorneys, or our Attorneys General, sought to prosecute anyone at General Motors for knowingly exposing us to defective ignition switches? Have any of these officers of our judicial system ever prosecuted a manager for manslaughter or battery or any of several other crimes they commit in their efforts to place profits over safety? Other than the prosecution of Randall Miller and his wife and partner, can any reader of this blog think of a single business owner, manager or executive who has been prosecuted because a mistake they made at a worksite resulted in a catastrophic injury or death to an employee?

The bottom line is that Mr. Miller was prosecuted not because of the nature of his alleged crime, but because of the nature of the publicity that surrounded it. It is about time that our prosecutors demonstrate a similar concern for the less publicized victims of known workplace hazards, and mete out justice not just in high profile deaths but also for the hourly worker and his family who’s loss is every bit as devastating as the injuries suffered by those involved in the movie shoot catastrophe.