A company in the UK has become the first to be convicted under the UK Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which introduced the new offence of corporate manslaughter where the gross negligence of a company's senior management results in death.
The company, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, was found guilty after an employee, Alexander Wright, 27, was killed after being buried in a deep soil trench collapse.
In September 2008, Wright was left working alone in the 3.5 metre-deep trench on a development plot to finish-up when the company director left for the day.
However, the two people who owned the plot decided to stay at the site as they knew Wright was working alone in the trench.
About 15 minutes later they heard a muffled noise and then a shout for help. Despite the plot owners' best efforts to rescue him, Wright died of traumatic asphyxiation.
The prosecution's case was that Wright was working in a dangerous trench because Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings' systems had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect him from working in that way.
In convicting the company, the jury found that their system of work in digging trial pits was wholly and unnecessarily dangerous.
The company ignored well-recognised industry guidance that prohibited entry into excavations more than 1.2 metres deep, requiring junior employees to enter into and work in unsupported trial pits, typically from 2 to 3.5 metres deep.
Wright was working in just such a pit when he died, and while Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings denied killing him, the company was fined £385,000 ($617,674) and ordered to pay the fine over a 10 year period.
Commenting on the case, law firm Norton Rose said that historically, convictions of large companies for manslaughter have failed due to the difficulty in identifying the "directing mind" of a company, that is, an individual in a managerial role who caused the death.
"The Act attempts to address this lacuna by considering the actions of a company's senior management collectively," said the firm in a news update on the case.
"The prosecution was able to demonstrate to the jury that the behaviour of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings and its management fell far below that which could reasonably be expected," said Norton Rose, which also noted that the fine imposed on the company was far larger than the average fine for a work-related death (usually around £100,000 ($160,434)) and "is no doubt a signal that larger fines can now be expected".