Landscaping company sued for wrongful death of workers

Updated Oct 6, 2016

lawsuit-gavelTwo landscape workers died in October 2014 when the trench they were digging caved in and now the one of the victim’s family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the employer.

Oscar Portillo, 46, and Selvin Zelaya, 39, were two of the four employees working on a 9- to 13-foot-deep trench, where they were preparing to install a French drain pipe, when the walls of the ditch collapsed.

One of the men became trapped and the other jumped into the trench to help, but both were buried under 10 feet of dirt. Emergency response teams tried to rescue the men, but they suffocated as one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a small car.

The wrongful-death lawsuit has been filed by Portillo’s brother, Juan Carlos Montoya, who is acting as the administrator of Portillo’s estate, according to The Daily Record.

Portillo and Zelaya’s employer, Bednar Landscape Services Inc. of Boonton Township, New Jersey, was fined $77,000 by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration in April 2015 after being issued one willful citation and nine serious violations.

“Sadly, this is not an isolated incident,” Robert Kulick, OSHA regional administrator, said at the time of the fine. “The fact that two workers are killed each month in trench collapses underscores how important cave-in protections are.”

The willful citation was for the trench being inadequately sloped and unprotected by shoring. The serious violations included failure to have a ladder every 25 feet in the trench, not having the trench inspected by a competent person, and not having utilities marked out.

“An unprotected trench can be a death trap and should never be entered,” Kulick said. “There are several ways to protect people who work in trenches, and trenches should be inspected at the start of each shift and as needed throughout the workday by trained professionals.”

Landscaper pleads guilty to tax evasion

A landscape company owner in Fairfield, Connecticut, has pled guilty to avoiding taxes for $1.3 million in business income over three years.

Donald Biagi Jr., owner of Don Biagi Landscaping, failed to report 62 percent of his company’s gross receipts in 2008, 47 percent in 2009 and 60 percent in 2010.

His company conducted landscaping and snowplowing services for commercial and residential customers throughout Fairfield County, and Biagi often cashed his clients’ check instead of depositing them into the business’s bank account. During the three-year period he cashed 574 checks worth $848,750 total.

According to prosecutors, Biagi was his own bookkeeper and withheld information about the cashed checks and some of the checks he deposited into his business account from his tax preparer. This caused him to fail to report $1,321,305 in business gross receipts.

Biagi is now facing up to five years in prison and fines up to $250,000. A sentencing date has not been set but he has agreed to pay $445,579 to the U.S. Treasury in restitution and additional penalties and interest for his unpaid taxes.

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