CA Man Goes On Trial over Firefighter Killed While Working For Him

29 May, 2019 Liz Carey

                               

Big Sur, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) – A man responsible for hiring some of the contractors who helped put out one of California’s wildfires in 2016 is on trial this week over the death of one of those firefighters.

At issue is whether or not the firefighter was Ian Czirban’s employee and whether or not he, and other firefighters like him, had protections as employees.

Robert Reagan, 35, of Fresno, California, died moments after he climbed into the cab of a bulldozer he was operating as a firefighter for the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County in July 2016. Reagan was bulldozing in unfamiliar territory and the bulldozer overturned.

Czirban, whose company Crizban Concrete Construction, came under scrutiny when an investigation by Cal Fire and the Contractors State License Board revealed that Crizban Concrete did not have workers’ compensation insurance - required by state law if he was going to have others operate his equipment.

Deputy District Attorney John Hubanks said in court documents that Czirban filed false documents with Cal Fire and had a history of failing to maintain workers’ compensation coverage.

“For a while, the defendant’s gamble paid, as his seasonal bulldozer contract with Cal Fire earned him about $156,000 in income while he was able to avoid expensive insurance for clearly hazardous work,” Hubanks wrote.

Czirban has pleaded not guilty to charges of insurance and workers’ compensation fraud, and failure to pay taxes, among other charges brought against him by the Monterey County District Attorney’s office. Trial for Czirban was scheduled to begin yesterday.

Czirban claims that Reagan was an independent contractor and had never worked for Czirban prior to the Cal Fire operation.

The incident was also investigated by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. According to a report by Cal OSHA, Reagan was employed by Czirban for five days starting on July 26. Upon arriving on the job site, Reagan was shown the area where he would be working and the best way to approach digging a fire ditch to thwart the wildfire. Reagan entered the bulldozer and was going up the hill to the fire ditch area when he encountered a vehicle coming down the hill. Reagan attempted to back the truck up and it overturned, crushing him in the process.

Cal OSHA cited Czirban Concrete for failing to ensure Reagan was wearing a seatbelt, as well as failing to report Reagan’s fatality in a timely manner.

Cal OSHA has fined Czirban a total of $20,000 for five violations, one of them (failure to require seatbelt usage at all times) is considered to be serious.

Reagan’s death was not the last of the contractors operating as firefighters. Several others operating heavy equipment have died fighting California wildfires. None of the firefighters working for the company had workers’ compensation insurance.

According to KQED, Garrett Paix died in 2017 when the water tanker he was driving crashed in Napa County as firefighters worked to put out the Nuns Fire. His employer, Tehama Transport was fined and ordered shut down after the state Labor Commissioner found the company did not have workers’ compensation insurance.

WorkersCompensation.com previously covered the death of 82-year-old Donald Ray Smith. Smith died while operating a bulldozer in the Carr Fire in Redding, prompting an investigation. The Labor Commissioner’s office cited Robert Dominikus General Engineering in that incident, citing no workers’ compensation insurance.

Czirban’s trial is widely seen as a message to California contractors, Veena Dubal, associate professor at US Hastings College of Law, told KQED.

“Those who violate California employment laws by fraudulently misclassifying their workers as independent contractors may face not only civil penalties, but also criminal ones,” Dubal said, according to KQED. “For other Cal Fire contractors, the message here is very clear: not treating your workers like employees is a gamble that could put you behind bars.”

Dubal said, however, that the state should do the same thing for larger corporations.

 

“There is some injustice in this man being prosecuted while large, multi-national corporations regularly misclassify their workers,” she said.


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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