In many U.S. farming communities, including in California, transportation accidents are becoming increasingly common. This trend is putting farmworkers in harm's way as they try to do something as routine as go to work in the fields. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in 2020, 368 farmers and farmworkers died from a work-related injuries and transportation incidents were the leading cause of death for these farmers and farmworkers.
Several Tragic Accidents Involving Farmworkers
There have been numerous incidents recently that raise concerns. In fact, several agricultural growers and contractors in California, Oregon and Washington are under investigation right now by the Wage and Hour Division after tragic accidents involving transportation of workers. In 2015, a van carrying a large group of farmworkers to work crashed in California.
Four workers, including a 16-year-old died in that crash. In that case, the Department of Labor found both the grower and the farm labor contractor responsible for providing an unsafe vehicle with an unlicensed driver behind the wheel. The workers were not wearing safety belts as mandated by state law. In 2017, near Calexico, California, a blown tire and a missing seatbelt led to the tragic wrongful death accident of one worker's life and resulted in injuries for six others.
A federal court later found a Southern California grower and its farm labor contractor responsible in that case. In November 2019, three farmworkers were killed and several others suffered severe injuries when the driver of a van carrying 16 workers failed to obey a traffic light and drove the van into the path of an oncoming pickup truck.
A Dangerous Trend with a History
Farmworker transportation accidents are not new in California. On Sept. 17, 1963, a makeshift bus carrying 58 migrant workers was returning to a labor camp when it was struck by a freight train at an unmarked crossing outside the town of Chualar, California. That so-called bus was nothing more than a flatbed truck fitted with two parallel wooden benches. It had no restraints. In that horrific crash, 32 workers were killed and 25 others were severely injured. The driver of that vehicle was unlicensed.
Another similar incident that year killed 27 workers. It was then that Congress passed a law requiring contractors to provide proof of liability insurance and to inform workers about housing, wages and transportation. However, many contractors did not even bother to register. Nearly 20 years after that, lawmakers passed the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act or MSPA, which among other requirements, mandates that employers in the agriculture industry show that their transportation is properly insured and meets safety standards.
And yet, these farmworker transportation deaths continue. This is because more than 10,000 farm labor contractors are registered under MSPA, but the Wage and Hour Division does not have sufficient manpower to enforce these laws. There are only 976 investigators who must police these contractors and millions of other businesses governed by the laws it enforces. In 2022 alone, Wage and Hour assessed $5 million in penalties for violation of safety and labor standards, including transportation.
The agency cited 1,623 cases of transportation violations between 2010 and 2015. However, officials have admitted that the agency does not have the necessary resources to be everywhere workers are being transported. Farmworker advocates say this lack of manpower combined with minor penalties for infractions, encourages more people to cut corners. As a result, workers and their families pay the ultimate price.
Complexity of These Cases
It is important to remember that a vast majority of farmworkers are not actually employees of the growers. Rather, they routinely deal with a network of labor contractors and employee leasing companies. So, how do farmworkers get to the fields? Some car pool and others, out of desperation, rely on "raiteros" who charge them an exorbitant fee for transportation in unsafe vehicles. This kind of unauthorized transportation that exploits vulnerable workers has become a scourge that has endangered farmworkers.
If you are a farmworker who has been injured in a car accident, or if you have lost a loved one in such an accident, it is important that you contact an experienced Los Angeles work injury lawyer in California who will help fight for your rights every step of the way. In these cases, there are several parties who can be held liable including a contracting company, the company that runs the transportation service or the manufacturer of a defective vehicle or vehicle part whose negligence caused the accident.
At Greenberg and Ruby Injury Attorneys, APC, we do not hesitate to take on challenging work injury cases. We have a heart for vulnerable workers and their families who would otherwise not have access to the civil justice system. We are passionate about pursuing justice and fair compensation for workers who are deliberately put in harm's way by individuals and entities that aim to exploit them.