Confusion Over Detroit Worker’s Death Raises Questions About Big Business

Considering how large our nation is, it isn’t surprising to discover that the U.S. holds 10% of the global construction market share. It seems that projects are always running, from the streets of New York City to the suburbs of Las Vegas. With such nonstop work, construction accidents are more common than they should be. The death of one man in Detroit, however, is raising questions over the influence Big Business has in potential workers’ compensation claims.

Michael Morrison was working on the Little Caesars Arena in June of 2017 when he suddenly fell from his station to the dusty, plastic covered chair below. The project had more than a thousand workers employed, and two ironworkers rushed to call 911 when they saw an orange blur hurtling past them toward the ground. The Detroit Police Department and Wayne County Medical Examiner declared the death of Morrison, a 46-year-old electrician from St. Clair Shores, an accident.

However, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration was called in to conduct an investigation. Having interviewed several builders who insisted Morrison’s fall was actually a leap, MIOSHA ruled the event a suicide. Safety experts say that the administration’s decision to overrule its own inspector — who also labeled the death an accident — has caused many people to consider whether regulators are putting Big Business ahead of Michigan workers.

Employers with injuries and deaths in their history face higher costs: workers’ compensation claims and other insurance, as well as the cost of performance and payment bonds, can climb when a workplace fatality has occurred. Workers’ compensation on average can cost a company around $21,800, and the event can act as a stain on their safety record, which can in turn negatively impact their ability to win bids on future projects.

Because Morrisson’s death has been ruled as a suicide, his living relatives are not entitled to a workers’ compensation claim — but that doesn’t mean his wife, Lynne Morrisson, isn’t fighting the ruling.

“It’s perplexing but not surprising that a state agency would have a bias against injured workers,” said Southfield lawyer Joel Alpert, who represents Morrison’s widow. “MIOSHA is supposed to be independent but the facts here appear to show a significant bias in favor of the business community and that does not serve the people of the State of Michigan.”

Even if she wins this battle, the legal war is far from over. Morrisson’s employer can deny her claim on a variety of grounds. Many surviving family members are forced to head to an appeals court where they can contest the decision; however, time is of the essence is such situations. Just as probate appeals must be made with 30 to 45 days of the date the ruling is made, workers’ comp appeals are held to a very tight timeline.

Unfortunately, there’s no telling whether or not she’ll even make it that far. Hopefully, Morrisson’s death can get the workers of Michigan to understand the seriousness of MIOSHA’s ruling.

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