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Circus operator fined $24k over tent collapse that killed 2

A weather emergency is a real emergency. That's especially true when you're operating without permanent structures, as responsible fairs and circuses know. If your customers and employees are relying on a tent to protect them, that tent had better be erected correctly and rated for severe weather or you're putting them directly in harm's way.

Last August, a company called Walker International Events was hosting a traveling circus in another state when a severe weather warning and a high wind warning were announced. Walker ignored those warnings. 

Just after the crowd of 100 settled in, a 75 mph wind gust whipped through the fairgrounds and toppled the circus tent. Fifty people were injured. A 41-year-old man and his 6-year-old daughter were killed.

Because employees were affected, OSHA initiated an investigation into the event. It found that the company did not set up the tent correctly -- it didn't use the correct tent stakes for the situation, anchor them properly, or replace damaged ones. In addition, inappropriate electrical equipment was being used in wet areas and there were no fire extinguishers on hand even though employees were working with open flames.

The agency proposed fining Walker $33,000 for these safety and health violations, but the company appealed and was able to have that reduced to $24,000.

That $9,000 discount is unlikely to make much of a difference, however, as Walker International Events is now out of business. If it wishes to start up again, it will have to file a comprehensive safety and health plan with OSHA.

"While nothing can undo the tragedy in Lancaster, this settlement does seek to prevent future such occurrences," said a spokesperson for OSHA. "This case serves as a reminder to employers everywhere that severe weather can present significant safety and health hazards to their employees, and that they must take adequate precautions to address those hazards."

Walker also faced seven lawsuits in addition to the fine by OSHA, including a wrongful death suit brought by the bereft wife and mother. A proposed agreement on the cases still pending has been filed with the court.

Finally, Walker has been charged with a felony for operating without a license, along with other violations. The company has pleaded not guilty.

When people are injured due to unsafe conditions on another party's property, they are urged to seek compensation for their injuries and losses under the law of premises liability. OSHA fines and criminal charges are helpful deterrents for bad behavior, but they can't help with your medical bills, trauma and loss. Premises liability law allows you to hold negligent actors financially accountable for the full harm they cause.

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