Lawmaker hopes to change loophole in MO law on workplace deaths

MO law
MO law
Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 10:19 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- A loophole in Missouri law could mean an employer gets off the hook after an employee dies on the job. A St. Louis lawmaker wants to change that.

This is coming to light in the year after a deadly work zone crash in St. Louis County, where the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is being sued for the wrongful death of an unborn baby. The case for the mom, who was pregnant when she died on the job, was dropped.

On November 18, 2021, a MoDOT crew was working on Telegraph Road near Interstate 255 in St. Louis County when a driver crashed through the work zone. Two MoDOT workers died, 58-year-old James Brooks and 28-year-old Kaitlyn Anderson, who was 6 months pregnant with a son she named Jaxx.

Another MoDOT worker, Michael Brown, survived but was left with life-long injuries.

Fired MoDOT supervisor claims department hadn’t required work zone training in years before deadly crash

Earlier this year, the family of Kaitlyn Anderson sued MoDOT for wrongful death and negligence.

Missouri’s Worker’s Compensation law includes a clause that says if a person is unmarried and doesn’t have a dependent child, their employer doesn’t have to pay benefits if they die on the job.

In court filings, MoDOT argued the law protects the department from liability in an employee’s death. The judge agreed and dropped the lawsuit for Anderson but said the suit can move forward for Anderson’s unborn baby since he was not an employee.

Missouri State Rep. Michael Burton (D-St. Louis County) says he never knew that was a possibility.

“When I found out I was like wait a minute, you got to be kidding me,” Burton said.

Burton, who just won reelection, says he’s looking at ways to take that clause out of the law.

“If we don’t change the law, they could keep putting their employees in very dangerous situations,” Burton added.

Crosses at the spot where a work zone crash killed two MoDOT workers, one who was six months...
Crosses at the spot where a work zone crash killed two MoDOT workers, one who was six months pregnant.

The law affects employees across the state and applies to all employers, both public and private.

MoDOT turned down requests for an interview with News 4 Investigates, citing the pending lawsuit.

News 4 investigates learned MoDOT did an internal investigation into the crash and put the crew’s supervisor, Michael Love, on paid probation and accused him of safety failures. Currently, Love is working at MoDOT where he oversees road crews.

Anderson’s family is also suing Love for wrongful death and negligence.

MoDOT worker who survived work zone crash fired from department, still unable to work

“Safety is a very big problem with MoDOT and accountability is a big problem,” Burton said.

Burton says he plans on putting this law change at the top of his priority list when the legislative session resumes in January.