Washington Court Upholds Authority to Pursue Charges in Workplace Death

The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that an employer can be charged with a felony in connection with a workplace fatality.

The recent decision clears the way for the King County Prosecutor to move forward with second-degree manslaughter charges against Phillip Numrich, owner of the now closed Alki Construction Co. in West Seattle.

One of Numrich’s employees, 36-year-old Harold Felton, was killed during a worksite trench collapse in 2016. Felton was working at a home in Seattle when the dirt walls of a seven-foot-deep trench he was in collapsed, burying him under more than six thousand pounds of mud and sand.

Typically, the business faces a citation and fine when there are safety violations in connection with a workplace fatality, and not criminal action.

“There are times when a monetary penalty isn’t enough,” said Joel Sacks, Department of Labor & Industries director.

An L&I investigation reportedly found shoring had been installed on only one side of the trench that collapsed, instead of on all four sides. There was also no ladder for entry or exit from the trench.

Numrich reportedly told L&I investigators he knew his workers were digging in rain-soaked, “type C” loam-sandy, unstable soil, but it was the employees’ responsibility to know the dangers and determine when shore boards were needed.

L&I cited and fined Alki Construction after finding a half-dozen safety violations.

A trial date for Numrich is expected to be set in the coming weeks.