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Loophole in Missouri law means employers may be off the hook if you die on the job

By Susan El Khoury

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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — Working in Missouri comes with the risk that if you die on the job, your employer could be off the hook. It’s something that a recent lawsuit is putting a spotlight on and leaving some questioning if there is a loophole in state law.

Currently, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is facing a lawsuit for the wrongful death of an unborn baby, all while the case for the pregnant woman, who was a MoDOT employee, was dismissed.

The case stems from a deadly work zone crash that happened last November in St. Louis County. A MoDOT crew was working on restriping Telegraph Road near Interstate 255. The lane they were working in was closed, and the work zone was clearly marked with a truck, cones, and a flashing arrow sign alerting drivers to move over.

Investigators reported that 52-year-old Stanley McFadden suffered a diabetic emergency behind the wheel and crashed through the work zone. The crash killed 25-year-old Kaityln Anderson, who was six months pregnant with a baby boy she named Jaxx. Her co-worker, 58-year-old James Brooks, was also killed. Another MoDOT worker, Michael Brown, was left with life-long injuries but survived the crash.

Earlier this year, Anderson’s family sued MoDOT for negligence and wrongful death. Anderson’s mom, Tonya Musskopf, told News 4 it was difficult learning her daughter’s case wouldn’t be moving forward.

“Kaitlyn’s life all of a sudden became meaningless,” Musskopf said. “Kaitlyn went to work, she should have come home. Jaxx would be 5 months old.”

In court filings, MoDOT argued Missouri’s Workers’ Compensation law protects them from “liability.”

“There’s no incentive for the employer to behave safely because they can kill you for free,” said Andrew Mundwiller, the lawyer representing Anderson’s family.

Mundwiller said the law requires employers to pay some benefits when an employee dies on the job.

“The employer only has to pay $5,000 for burial expenses, and you can’t bury someone for that much,” he explained.

However, Missouri’s law comes with a catch. If an employee isn’t married or doesn’t have children who are minors, the employer doesn’t have to pay a dime. This part of the law isn’t exclusive to MoDOT or state agencies, it applies to all employers including private companies.

“That is a huge hole in Missouri law, and I would hope that reasonable legislators would look at this as an opportunity to fix an injustice that affects a huge segment of Missourians,” Mundwiller added.

Mundwiller said things went a step farther in Kaitlyn Anderson’s case. In the civil lawsuit, MoDOT used Missouri’s Workers’ Compensation law to argue it can’t be held accountable for negligence or wrongful death.

“They can go into court and say, well you’ve covered by comp, even though they didn’t pay you any comp, and use that as a defense,” he said.

In court filings, MoDOT argued that Anderson’s unborn baby Jaxx was an employee too and wanted the case for him dismissed. The St. Louis County Circuit Court judge didn’t agree.

“It felt good knowing that someone acknowledged him,” Musskopf said.

When News 4 Investigates asked MoDOT about the case, a spokeswoman said the department cannot comment on pending litigation.

Anderson’s family is also suing the MoDOT supervisor and driver. Both of those cases are moving forward.

In July, the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office decided not to file criminal charges against the driver, claiming it was an accident.

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