In June and December of 2005, we covered the trial and sentencing of a contractor who faced criminal charges stemming from the deaths of two employees. The charges brought against the L.E. Myers Company were the result of the deaths of two linemen who died on two different jobs within a three-month time span. Federal Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown sentenced L.E. Myers to three years’ probation and the maximum amount of fines allowed: $500,000. The judge specifically noted that from 1972 through December of 1999, L.E. Myers received “55 OSHA citations and suffered 35 workplace fatalities.”

L.E. Myers appealed this decision to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, arguing that jury instructions were improper. The jury instructions allowed the jury to infer that L.E. Myers was aware the static wires that led to the fatality were, on occasion, energized. This was important because corporate knowledge is the key to obtaining a conviction.

According to the court, the jury instruction was harmless error, as L.E. Myers knew it was required to ensure the line was not energized, but it failed to take any precautionary measures to fulfill this requirement.