A $75,000 fine is “not a price to put on an arm,” says the wife of a London man who was traumatically injured in a workplace incident more than a year ago.
Coldstream Concrete, a company in Ilderton, was ordered to pay that figure following a guilty plea Thursday in an incident that cost 38-year-old Geoff Morphew his right arm. He was working in quality control on Aug. 2, 2017, when a 23,000-kilogram concrete culvert fell on top of him.
“My heart’s just racing,” said Sarah Morphew, who thought up until Thursday that the London-area company was going to go to trial.
“To know that they pleaded guilty to that, that’s an acknowledgment of their negligence.”
But it does little to change the outcome for Morphew, her husband, and their four children. The former Coldstream Concrete employee also suffers from a brain injury, severe PTSD and an ankle injury, which has dramatically changed life at home.
“Loud noises trigger his brain injury, his concussion. There’s lots of things where I feel, as a family, we’re a bit of a burden,” said Sarah.
Things got particularly bad in January, after learning the private insurance companies from her employer and his union wouldn’t cover the cost of a prosthetic arm and that he’d need to acknowledge his entitlement to WSIB, she explained.
“He collapsed on the floor and said ‘I just want to die, I don’t want to live anymore. I can’t live like this,'” remembered Sarah.
“He couldn’t pick up the baby, he couldn’t feed himself, he couldn’t shower the same, he couldn’t dress himself, tie his shoes. You don’t think about the things you can’t do when you only have one arm, because they just come so naturally when you have two.”
The Morphews now rely on Sarah’s income, and Geoff’s WSIB cheques to get by.
“It doesn’t equate to the same amount he was earning. They only pay proportionately to a certain percentage of your gross earnings. So that’s different,” she said.
The $75,000 fine and the 25-per cent victim surcharge Coldstream Concrete must pay won’t benefit the Morphews at all; the fine goes to the Ministry of Labour, and the surcharge goes to a government fund that helps victims of crime.
They also can’t sue, said Sarah.
“The employer is protected as a Schedule 1 employer, and even though they were negligent and their negligence was responsible for Geoff’s accident, he cannot hold them accountable for that.”
A Ministry of Labour investigation revealed that the crane carrying the culvert experienced an “unexpected and catastrophic failure.”
The culvert had been lifted five feet high, and Morphew was reaching underneath to chisel away a metal date plate that was attached to the bottom when the crane failed.
“The surgeons said if it had been an inch over, he would’ve been dead,” Sarah told 980 CFPL following the incident. They also told her Geoff would have bled out in “60 seconds” had the pressure of the slab not acted like a “Ziploc bag” and cauterized his veins.
The investigation revealed that Coldstream Concrete was in violation of a provincial law which requires employers to make sure any equipment that is temporarily elevated is properly secured so that it doesn’t fall.
With files from 980 CFPL’s Natalie Lovie.