Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Following Death of Teen Farm Worker

June 18, 2008 9:26:33 PM PDT
Autopsy results show the pregnant 17 year old died from heat stroke.The uncle of Maria Isabel Jimenez stood on the Merced County Courthouse steps holding the teenager's picture just moments after attorneys filed a lawsuit claiming her death could have been avoided.

Marcos Camacho/Attorney: "It's pretty simple prevention that had been followed would have prevented this death we believe."

Attorneys say the pregnant 17 year old collapsed on May 14th after working in a vineyard near Farmington in 100 degree heat for more than nine hours. She died two days later. An autopsy report released Wednesday morning lists the cause of death as heat stroke. Attorneys say Maria's employers did not follow laws designed to protect her and other farm workers.

Camacho: "It's basically providing water, shade, and training workers to understand when they're under the symptoms of heat."

This lawsuit was filed on behalf of Maria's mother against West Coast Grape Farming, Inc. and the teen's employer, Merced Farm Labor, which was shut down by the state last week.

Robert Perez/attorney: "One goal is obviously to provide monetary benefit to the mother who lost her daughter. And the second thing is to put employers and landowners on notice that they must comply with the law."

A United Farm Workers representative says it's difficult for the state to enforce the law because there are more than 600 thousand farm workers in California. That's why he says it's critical for the workers to feel safe enough to speak up.

Armando Elenes/U.F.W. Organizing Director: "Unless workers feel they have a voice, unless workers feel they are not going to be retaliated against, I'm afraid we're going to continue to see this."

Maria's uncle says his family also wants to protect others from suffering such a painful loss.

Doroteo Jimenez/Victim's Uncle: "What the family suffered, what we saw, we don't want them to have fear in speaking out."

Action News tried contacting the land owner and labor company, but they could not be reached for comment.


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