Lawsuits Likely After Arizona Cited in Firefighter Deaths

Citations and fines issued to the Arizona Forestry Division for the deaths of 19 firefighters could bolster efforts by their families to sue the state, but the bar for filing lawsuits in workplace deaths remains high, according to lawyers, reports The Associated Press.

The state Industrial Commission's decision to issue $559,000 in fines after finding willful and serious lapses of workplace safety rules will make it easier to get around laws preventing wrongful death lawsuits in nearly all workplace accidents, a lawyer for one family and another employment law attorney said. But others said Thursday that the bar is high and a judge may not allow families to sue.

The Industrial Commission levied the fine Wednesday after investigators with the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health determined the Granite Mountain Hotshots and other crews fighting the Yarnell Hill fire on June 30 should have been pulled out at least an hour before the crew was trapped and killed. The state has 15 working days to appeal.

The investigators determined that state fire officials put protection of property and pasture ahead of firefighter safety, even though they knew the area couldn't be defended. They lacked key personnel at critical times, including officers focused only on safety, lead investigator Marshall Krotenberg told the commission. He also said commanders knew a thunderstorm was brewing to the north that would likely shift winds and push the fire toward crews battling the fire.

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