After a six-month investigation of the crushing deaths of two men who were trying to unload 800-pound slabs of countertops in a Lockport warehouse, federal regulators have imposed the maximum allowable fine on XPO Logistics, the warehouse company.
This month, the widows of the two men filed separate lawsuits against DuPont Co., the manufacturer of the countertops, accusing the company of improperly loading a shipping container and contributing to the deaths that occurred when 11 slabs fell on the men.
There were no eyewitnesses to the accident that killed Christopher J. Klosin, 38, of Barker, and Roger A. Mangine, 62, of Newfane, about 1:30 a.m. June 25 in the XPO building in the Town of Lockport industrial park off Upper Mountain Road.
On Dec. 14, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined XPO $12,934, the most that federal law allows it to impose for one serious violation.
An agency spokesman said OSHA concluded that the way the slabs were stored contributed to a crushing hazard.
"We respectfully disagree with OSHA’s decision to issue a citation and plan to review the details of this tragic accident with them directly," said Erin Kurtz, a spokeswoman for XPO.
"While we do not comment on pending litigation, we are deeply saddened about this tragic incident as the safety of our employees and contractors are our top priority," DuPont spokesman Dan Turner said.
The slabs of DuPont Zodiaq, now called Corian Quartz, each weighed 800 pounds, measured five by eight feet and were 1.5 inches thick. They were manufactured in China and hauled to Lockport in a shipping container placed on a flatbed tractor-trailer.
OSHA reported that it was uncertain why Klosin and Mangine entered the shipping container. Their job was to remove the slabs from the container.
"I don't think they were moving it at the time of this accident," said James T. Scime, the attorney representing Kristina R. Klosin, Christopher Klosin's widow.
OSHA reported that the slabs arrived in Lockport June 22, three days before the accident, and had shifted in transit.
"The container was opened up two days before the incident and management was aware there was a problem with the load," the OSHA report said.
The OSHA report said XPO stopped all container unloading until Sept. 12 while it retrained workers in proper unloading procedures.
Some workers on an earlier shift removed some of the slabs with a fork truck fitted with a boom and a clamp, but didn't finish emptying the shipping container, OSHA's report said.
According to a Niagara County Sheriff's Office report, Klosin and Mangine entered the shipping container and found 13 slabs on the left side that had been strapped to the wall, and 11 slabs on the right that had not been secured. As they stood looking at the secured slabs, the unsecured slabs tipped over and fell on them, killing them instantly.
The lawsuits, filed in State Supreme Court in Niagara County, do not name XPO as a defendant, only DuPont.
Christopher J. O'Brien, the attorney representing Nancy Mangine, Roger Mangine's widow, said New York State law does not allow lawsuits against employers in cases like this.
"Under New York law, your sole remedy is worker's compensation," O'Brien said.
The state pays death benefits to spouses based on their salaries, Scime said.
Both attorneys said they anticipate DuPont will sue XPO in a third-party suit.