British Columbia

Provincial contractor has 1st court appearance on criminal negligence charge in death of B.C. worker

Peter Kiewit Sons Co. and two former managers, Timothy Rule and Gerald Karjala, are all charged with criminal negligence causing death in the 2009 death of Sam Fitzpatrick.

Peter Kiewit Sons Co. charged in death of Sam Fitzpatrick who was killed by a falling boulder on Feb. 22, 2009

Sam Fitzpatrick, right, was killed by a falling rock on a Kiewit worksite in 2009. (Mike Pearson)

The lawyer for a major construction company that frequently contracts with the B.C. government made a first appearance in court on criminal charges Wednesday.

Peter Kiewit Sons Co. and two former managers, Timothy Rule and Gerald Karjala, are all charged with criminal negligence causing death in the 2009 death of Sam Fitzpatrick.

A Crown prosecutor indicated Wednesday that there would be a "voluminous" file of evidence to disclose before the case goes to trial.

Lawyers for Kiewit and Rule spoke briefly during Wednesday's hearing in Vancouver provincial court, agreeing to set the next court date for September. Karjala, who lives in the U.S., did not make an appearance.

Experts on corporate criminal liability have described the charges as the most significant application to date of the so-called Westray law, which allows criminal prosecution of companies and their directors in connection with injury and death on the job.

'Reckless disregard' for safety

Fitzpatrick was 24 years old when he was killed by a falling boulder on a Kiewit worksite on Feb. 22, 2009. His younger brother, Arlen, watched it happen.

Investigators later noted a "reckless disregard" for safety on the hydroelectric project near Toba Inlet. A WorkSafeBC investigation revealed the Kiewit site had a history of close calls with rocks spilling down the steep slope. 

Just one day before Fitzpatrick died, another large rock had crashed into a piece of heavy equipment, causing $65,000 in damage.

A new safety plan for the site was developed as a result of that incident, which stated  there could no longer be any construction activity uphill from where people were working. The plan was apparently ignored.

Kiewit was originally fined $250,000 by WorkSafeBC for Fitzpatrick's death. When the company appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal, the penalty was slashed to less than $100,000.

Kiewit is one of the biggest construction companies in North America. It has a long history of partnering on major B.C. infrastructure projects, including the new Port Mann bridge, upgrades to the Sea-to-Sky Highway and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

The company is currently part of teams shortlisted to bid on two upcoming projects: the $1.377-billion replacement of the Pattullo Bridge and the Highway 91/17 upgrades in Delta.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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