Liability and Disasters at Work

Every business should be prepared to cope with the hazards and disasters of today’s complex world. Earthquakes pose a constant threat. They are unpredictable and strike without warning.

This was driven home with the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. The area around Northridge is mostly residential, and the percentage of large corporations located there is relatively small. Of these corporations, many sustained heavy damage. What if the epicenter had occurred directly below an area densely populated with corporations such as downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle? Is your company prepared for such an event? Will your employees, equipment, and assets survive? Are shareholders protected?

Failure to maintain standards of protection opens managers and officers to personal liability if losses or injuries occur because of their failure to act. Corporate managers and officers are expected to perform within the duty of good faith. This is done by doing things known to be right. Conversely, knowingly doing the wrong thing is a violation of good faith. Knowing of risks associated with a damaging earthquake, and doing nothing to prevent these risks, would construe an act of bad faith.

There is no legal defense under the claim that an earthquake is an “act of God” if the fact is that earthquakes are known to occur in your area and therefore they are a “foreseeable dangerous condition”. Damage and/or injury resulting from an earthquake striking your work site is foreseeable and therefore a liability that can be the result of an act of bad faith.

An administrator’s lack of necessary responsibility constitutes an act of bad faith to that employee. Earthquakes are known to cause injuries. Employees are likely to need essential emergency provisions. If these are not available and injury or death occurs, the employee may now sue the employer for failing to protect him from this known hazard. Your company could likely be held liable for his injuries and the damages he seeks. Earthquakes are so expected that insurance companies no longer consider them an Act of God. They are a foreseeable dangerous condition. Earthquake preparedness information is readily available through the American Red Cross, the phone book, etc. Doing nothing is an act of bad faith. Pleading ignorance to earthquakes is not acceptable. Managers that fail to take risk reducing measures are personally and legally liable to both employees as well as shareholders. Therefore, companies must take all precautions to make their facilities as safe as possible for their employees or face legal lawsuits from resulting injury or death following the occurrence of an earthquake.

Corporations are perhaps the most vulnerable to earthquakes. It is agreed that the death toll in Northridge would have been substantially higher had it occurred during normal business hours when offices, malls, and parking structures were filled. The possibility of the next quake occurring while people are on the job is great.

What steps the corporation chooses in caring for these employees, and reducing their risks, may determine whether or not this corporation survives the next catastrophic event. The recommended strategy to protect oneself from the liability game is to call our corporation, QUAKE KARE, Inc. to assist you in developing a disaster preparedness plan. We will assist you in identifying your potential risks and offer our complimentary analysis of your specific recommended emergency preparedness needs. Document these specific risks. Make recommendations to purchase these critical supplies and mitigate them. Forward the study to the next level of management. This demonstrates steps taken to reduce your risk, and puts the burden on the next level of management, should they refuse to act on your recommendations. Documentation is the best preparation in such an environment.

Earthquakes and other natural disasters strike suddenly and destructively and can kill or injure your employees, damage structures and equipment, and interrupt or terminate business operations. Yet, injuries and damage can be reduced or avoided entirely if appropriate preparedness measures are taken. An effective emergency preparedness plan can keep your business in business after a disaster.