An article in today’s Buffalo News poses an interesting question to New York personal injury lawyers: should OSHA fine a newspaper when a reporter dies while covering a story?
OSHA inspectors recommended fining the News $31,500 for an accident Tom Borrelli, a News sportswriter, had on November 8 while covering a high school football game. Mr. Borrelli died from his injuries on November 20.
The accident occurred as Mr. Borrelli was reaching the top of the stairs leading to All High Stadium’s press box. He apparently hit his head and fell down the stairs, injuring his head and neck. In the days before his death, Mr. Borrelli was paralyzed from the neck down.
Both New York State and OSHA conducted inspections of the accident site. The state found serious violations and set a strict deadline for Buffalo Public Schools to bring its stadium up to code. OSHA’s investigation also discovered problems with the stadium, finding five serious violations – all of which concerned the stairs leading to the press box.
But OSHA is holding the News responsible for the accident and charging them with the fines related to each of the violations.
The News‘s article is understandably one-sided – it doesn’t believe it should have to pay the fines. The News maintains that it never required its reporters to use the press box. It points out that many of its reporters successfully covered stories from the sidelines.
In addition, as the News points out, 62 journalists died in the course of their work in the past year and the News was the only paper cited by OSHA (the News is fudging its facts slightly here – that figure is for deaths worldwide, many of which fall outside OSHA’s jurisdiction).
Still, the News has a point. Many journalists’ jobs are intrinsically dangerous. They regularly cover wars, crime and natural disasters. There are unavoidable risks associated with this work. If OSHA holds newspapers accountable for every risk these reporters are exposed to, these important topics will become even harder to cover.
Even so, Mr. Borrelli’s death was surely avoidable. His family has secured a New York personal injury attorney and seems to have a strong case against the school system. The poor design and maintenance of the press box are inexcusable.
I am just not sure if OSHA’s fining the News was the right thing to do.