Fine Upheld in Maine Forestry Workers Accident; 14 Killed on Sept. 12, 2002

March 10, 2006

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board has upheld fines against the farm labor contractor who employed 14 migrant forestry workers killed Sept. 12, 2002, in a tragic accident in northern Maine.

The unsuccessful appeal, filed by Evergreen Forestry Services of Sandpoint, Idaho, and Peter Smith III, the company’s president and owner, contested a $17,000 civil money penalty. The fine was assessed following a Wage and Hour Division investigation conducted under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA).

“Evergreen and Smith were charged with failing to provide workers with safe transportation; failing to properly register the driver of the van involved in the accident; transporting workers without a certificate of authorization, and failing to amend their certificate to include the van involved in the accident,” said Corlis Sellers, northeast regional administrator of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

The company and its owner appealed the penalties before the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges. At issue in the appeal was whether the migrant workers’ deaths were caused by the failure of Evergreen’s van driver to obey the speeding laws of the State of Maine.

On Nov. 19, 2004, following proceedings that included submissions by Evergreen and the department, as well as a review of all available and pertinent evidence, Chief Administrative Law Judge John Vittone upheld the department’s penalty assessment.

That decision was subsequently appealed before the Labor Department’s Administrative Review Board. Chief Administrative Appeals Judge M. Cynthia Douglass and Administrative Appeals Judge Wayne Beyer affirmed Judge Vittone’s decision Feb. 28, 2006, and ordered Evergreen and Smith to pay the $17,000 penalty to the U.S. Department of Labor. In affirming the penalty, the decision upheld MSPA regulations requiring a motor vehicle to be driven in accordance with local motor vehicle laws.

Sellers explained that the $17,000 civil money penalty was the maximum amount the Labor Department could assess under the law and its regulations. “This penalty is in no way meant to place a value on the tragic loss of life in this case,” she said. “Each human life is priceless.”

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