Immigrant worker’s death prompts lawsuit

The death of a worker when a trench collapsed in an allegedly unsafe renovation project in Greenwich has resulted in a wrongful death suit against Dibico Construction, and prompted a push for immigration reform in the country.

The incident dates back to Nov. 1, 2010, when Erick Chinchilla was killed while working on a $1,140,000 project at the home of Robert and Maya Tichio at 2 Macpherson Drive, according to attorney Glenn Formica of Formica Williams PC in New Haven. Mr. Formica is co-counsel with attorney Victor Ferrante of Bridgeport and is representing Mr. Chinchilla’s estate.

According to police reports, while standing inside a seven-foot-deep trench, Mr. Chinchilla was attempting to powerwash the Tichios’ stone foundation, without being provided a helmet or escape ladder, and no shoring to the inside wall of the trench. Suddenly the front porch structure and its foundation fell away from the house and crashed into the trench, causing it to cave in and bury Mr. Chinchilla. He subsequently died of massive head injuries.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit alleges that federal work safety codes and OSHA standards were violated by the Tichios and by Dibico Construction in the deadly accident, according to Mr. Formica.

“Their negligence failed to provide a way out of the trench, in violation of code, which killed Mr. Chinchilla,” Mr. Formica said in a press release.

Mr. Chinchilla’s death, however, is not an isolated incident. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, immigrant workers tackle the riskiest jobs, in fields such as construction or agriculture, often without safety protections or proper training. Studies of immigrants doing reconstruction work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina showed that they were exposed to “dangerous substances and conditions.” Another study concluded that 21 of 29 fatal construction accidents in New York City during a recent 12-month period involved workers who were immigrants or who had limited English proficiency.

In 2007, for example, two Ecuadorian brothers were working as window washers in New York when their scaffolding collapsed, causing them to fall 47 stories. One brother died, and the other was gravely injured. In a similar case, a migrant farm worker died of heatstroke after picking tobacco in 110-degree weather in North Carolina in 2007, and his internal body temperature was recorded at 108 degrees.

“While I won’t comment on the specifics of the case, I think it is important to understand that our claim against the Tichios is a legal claim of negligence,” Mr. Formica said. “No one should confuse a legal claim of negligence with intentional conduct. I imagine they grieve with my client’s family,” he said. “In a larger sense, however, I think it’s time to make visible the many invisible people that are so much a part of the fabric of our everyday lives.”

These issues, and cases like that of Mr. Chinchilla, are playing a key role in the push for immigration reform, which is gaining momentum on a bipartisan bill in Congress. President Obama, in fact, applauded this effort in his State of the Union address last week.

Mr. Chinchilla’s case is scheduled for a summary judgment hearing on the Tichios’ personal liability within the next few weeks at Bridgeport Superior Court.

The case will be conducted as a jury trial, and this first hearing will determine whether the Tichios are liable for the accident.

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