A recent Ontario appeal decision serves as a reminder that courts in Occupational Health and Safety Act cases can award fines higher than what the prosecutor requests. Last summer, in R. v. Matcor Automotive Inc., the Ontario Court of Justice upheld a $270,000 fine imposed by a Justice of the Peace in a case of a worker seriously injured in a workplace incident, a substantially higher amount than the $180,000 requested by the Ministry of Labour prosecutor.
Matcor Automotive Inc. (“Matcor”) is a manufacturer of metal parts for the automotive industry. On January 15, 2013, at its Brampton facility, maintenance worker Davy Valentini was instructed to fix the tooling and overheating electrode associated with a robotic cell. The robot crushed against Valentini’s back, tragically rendering him a paraplegic. After a six-day trial, Matcor was found guilty on three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.1. Justice of the Peace D. Florence fined the company a total of $270,000, even though the Ministry of Labour prosecutor had requested a fine in the range of $175,000 to $225,000.
Matcor did not challenge the convictions, but appealed the amount of the fine. The company submitted that the fine was not proportionate, that the trial justice placed undue emphasis on a prior conviction against it under the OHSA, and that the fine was outside of the acceptable range.
Justice Monahan of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected each of these arguments, noting that:
• the employer was a “substantial corporation” that was “within a broader group of companies”;
• the employer had been found guilty on three charges under the OHSA;
• it was proper to consider the employer’s prior conviction under the OHSA; and
• the harm to the injured worker was “devastating”.
Despite the fact that the Ministry of Labour prosecutor and defence counsel actually agreed that $180,000 would be an appropriate amount for the fine, Monahan J. found that the $270,000 ordered by the Justice of the Peace fine was not unfit, and fell within the appropriate range.
The appeal was dismissed.
This case illustrates that there is always a risk that the court will impose a fine that is greater than the amount sought by the Ministry of Labour prosecutor, particularly in cases of serious worker injury.