[corp-focus] Of Snowboarders and Corporations
Wed, 08 Feb 2006 12:36:14 -0500
OF SNOWBOARDERS AND CORPORATIONS
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
What's the most powerful and underutilized legal tool in combating
corporate crime and violence?
Sarbanes Oxley? No.
The Martin Act? No.
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? No.
The antitrust laws? Clearly not.
No, the most powerful and underutilized tool in combating corporate
crime and violence is the law in your state making it a crime to kill
It is powerful because it levels the playing field between individuals
It is underutilized because it's a rare prosecutor who has the guts to
bring a homicide charge against a major American corporation.
If you have one too many drinks, get behind the wheel of your car, drive
away, get into an accident and kill someone as a result, you most likely
will be charged with some form of homicide -- negligent homicide, or
reckless homicide or manslaughter.
You didn't intend to kill someone.
But you did.
You should have known that drinking and driving increased the risk that
you were going to kill someone.
And you did kill someone.
And you will be charged and most likely convicted and most likely spend
some time in the slammer.
But if a large powerful institution -- say a corporation or a government
-- engages in reckless or negligent behavior, and they kill someone or
many someones -- they will most likely not be criminally prosecuted for
The short answer is -- they're powerful and you're not.
So, for example, we read in the newspaper today that a snowboarder who
ran into a skier a year ago in at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in
Wyoming was charged yesterday with negligent homicide.
The 17-year-old ran into Heather Donahue, 29, of Shrewsbury,
Donahue died of a head injury.
"The impact knocked Donahue out of her gloves, skis, poles, hat,
goggles, neck warmer and catapulted her 25 feet down the hill,"
sheriff's investigator Mike Carlson said.
All you have to do is type in the words "manslaughter" or "reckless
homicide" or "negligent homicide" into Google News and up will come case
after case of regular people being charged with various forms of
homicide -- not because they intended to kill, but because they did not
Rarely do corporations get charged.
As we have pointed out in an earlier column, the last homicide
prosecution brought against a major American corporation was in 1980,
when a Republican prosecutor charged Ford Motor Co. with homicide for
the deaths of three teenaged girls who died when their Ford Pinto caught
on fire after being rear-ended in northern Indiana.
The prosecutor alleged that Ford knew that it was marketing a defective
product, with a gas tank that crushed when rear ended, spilling fuel,
which caught on fire and incinerated the three young girls.
But Ford brought in a hotshot criminal defense lawyer who secured a not
guilty verdict after getting the judge to keep key evidence out of the
In 2003, Ira Robbins, a law professor at American University Law School,
made an open call to state prosecutors to bring homicide charges against
the tobacco companies.
"Government should not ignore the criminal aspects of what the tobacco
companies were doing," Robbins told us last week. "In fact, a good
argument can be made that, over time, tobacco company executives
consciously disregarded the substantial and unjustifiable risk that
people might be killed."
"If this could be proven, then it would come under the classic
definition of involuntary manslaughter," Robbins said.
No prosecutor to this date has answered the call.
The federal regulatory system has become so corrupted that it is almost
Even though workplaces are regulated by the federal government, we
believe every workplace death should be investigated by state officials
for a possible criminal homicide charge -- because our suspicion is that
many workplace deaths are the results of recklessness or negligence.
We have, for example, called on the prosecutor in Upshur County, West
Virginia to launch a criminal homicide inquiry into the mine disaster at
the Sago Mine that took the lives of 12 miners.
A few local prosecutors are breaking out of the box.
Last year, for example, a prosecutor in Arizona convicted a company --
Far West Water & Sewer -- on a negligent homicide charge in connection
with the death of two workers.
The company was fined $1.7 million.
In December 2003, the Attorney General of Rhode Island brought homicide
charges against a band manager and owners of a club where a fire took
the lives of 100 concertgoers.
Just yesterday, Daniel M. Biechele, the manager for the rock band Great
White, pled guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Biechele lit the pyrotechnics that sparked the flames that engulfed The
Station nightclub on February 20, 2003.
One hundred concertgoers died, and more than 200 were injured in the
West Warwick, Rhode Island fire -- the fourth-deadliest blaze in US
history. The owners of the club will face trial later this year.
Justice demands homicide criminal charges in cases like these.
And we ask -- if the case of the snowboarder warrants a criminal
investigation for homicide -- why not the deaths at the Sago mine?
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter, <http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com>. Robert Weissman is
editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor,
<http://www.multinationalmonitor.org>. Mokhiber and Weissman are
co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of
Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
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