BOSTON (AP) — A nearly 200-year-old Massachusetts statute outlining the penalties for corporate manslaughter is being thrust into the spotlight again as lawmakers on Beacon Hill and in Congress wrestle with the fallout from a deadly meningitis outbreak linked to a local compounding pharmacy.
While the investigation into the Framingham-based New England Compounding Center is still ongoing and no charges have been brought, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley says the case helps illustrate the need to change the manslaughter law, which hasn’t been updated since it was first signed into law by former Gov. John Brooks on February 19, 1819.
That law set a top penalty of $1,000.
“We understand that there is no amount of money that can compensate for the loss of an individual’s life. However, $1,000 is a woefully inadequate penalty and not a meaningful deterrent,” Coakley wrote this week in a letter to the Legislature’s Committee on Public Health, which is looking into the meningitis outbreak.
Coakley wants the maximum fine for corporate manslaughter increased to $250,000, and has pushed legislation at the Statehouse that would make the change.
That legislation was originally filed in the wake of a ceiling panel collapse in the Big Dig in July 2006. The collapse killed Milena Del Valle, 39, of Boston, and injured her husband when their car was crushed as it traveled through the project’s Interstate 90 connector tunnel.
Powers Fasteners, a New York company that marketed and distributed the epoxy anchor bolt system used in the tunnel, was indicted for manslaughter in August 2007 in connection with Del Valle’s death but faced the maximum fine of just $1,000.
The case was ultimately resolved when prosecutors dropped the manslaughter charge after the company agreed to pay $16 million to settle a civil complaint and take steps to prevent the wrong types of epoxy from being used by its customers.