COMMERCE, Ga. - A fatal accident at the SK Battery plant last fall has led to a legal fight affecting the future of the dead man’s family.
The question: was it Cameron Bell’s fault? Or is someone else to blame?
"He fought for safety," remembered Daniella Mejia. "That was his major concern."
Mejia and Bell lived together in Houston, Texas. They shared a 10-year-old son.
In October 2020, Bell signed on with MMR Constructors, a Louisiana-based subcontractor helping to build the $2.6 billion battery plant in Jackson County.
MMR was handling some of the electrical work. Bell became a crew supervisor.
The couple had been following online the FOX 5 I-Team’s investigation into safety concerns at SK, but still decided Bell needed the work.
"We knew it was unsafe but we both lost our jobs due to COVID, so it was just kind of like let’s just try to get some financial stability before Christmas," said Mejia.
Workers with other subcontractors had already filed complaints with OSHA claiming safety violations. Then the falls started.
This SK worker had to be hospitalized after falling through a ceiling in September 2020. He would not be the last.
On September 19, a worker had to be hospitalized after falling through a ceiling.
On October 23, Bell texted video to Mejia of another worker who fell through the ceiling of the cavernous Formation Building. His harness saved him from landing an estimated 65 feet on the concrete below.
"He sent me that video," remembered Mejia. "I texted him and said, ‘Oh My God, please don’t die.’"
In October 2020, this SK worker's safety harness saved him from serious injury after falling through a ceiling in the Formation Building.
But just 12 days later, on November 4, 2020, she would get a call that Bell was in the hospital. He had also fallen through the ceiling in that same building. But unlike that video he had texted, Bell’s safety harness was not attached. Bell landed on another worker who also had to be hospitalized.
But on November 16, Bell would be pronounced dead at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. He never regained consciousness.
Commerce police and fire responded to Bell's accident November 4, but the Houston, TX man would never recover. He was pronounced dead 12 days later. (Commerce police bodycam)
Workers’ compensation benefits typically pay $675 a week until the child turns 18. They can stretch to 21 if the child goes to college. But MMR is fighting this claim, arguing Georgia doesn’t recognize common law marriage, and since he didn’t tie off his harness, the accident was Bell’s fault.
Here’s why Mejia’s attorneys say it wasn’t.
"There’s only so many places you can tie off on to avoid falling through," explained Bruce Carraway, an Atlanta labor attorney. "There were too many people up in this area. And if there are too many people in that area, they can’t safely tie off and they’re more likely to fall through a hole."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the accident and determined MMR had committed "serious" violations involving fall protection. OSHA proposed a fine of $27,306.
MMR offered no comment to the FOX 5 I-Team about the OSHA fine or its refusal to pay Bell’s widow and son.
Two months before Bell's death a safety officer for another SK contractor complained to OSHA about "fall hazards." He said OSHA never responded. (Photo from Daniella Mejia)
Two months before Bell’s death, a safety officer for another subcontractor warned OSHA about workers "exposed to fall hazards… mainly work being performed above various areas of ceiling grid not designed to be walked on."
"They’re sacrificing people’s safety for production," Kimel Brantley told us last summer. He complained to OSHA that SK and its subcontractors cut safety corners to get work completed on schedule.
Despite his specific allegations and his standing as a safety officer, Brantley said no one from OSHA ever responded. When we asked why, OSHA didn’t respond to our questions either.
"It’s a perfect storm for the nightmare to occur," said labor attorney David Moscowitz who is also representing Daniella Mejia. "They’re trying to build this as quick and fast as possible with as many workers as possible without taking the precautions necessary to take care of folks."
Cameron Bell's widow is suing SK Battery, accusing the company of ignoring safety concerns that led to her common law husband's death.
Because Georgia law doesn’t allow you to sue your employer for wrongful death, Bell’s widow is also going after SK Battery itself.
Her lawsuit accuses SK of committing a long list of safety violations, including "failing to create and/or enforce safety rules and guidelines."
An example of the safety harness clip that was not tied off when Cameron Bell slipped through the ceiling November 4, 2020.
In its response, SK wrote, "The negligence of Cameron Bell is the sole cause of some, or all, the damages alleged by Plaintiff in this action."
Mejia believes what happened to her husband was preventable. And not his fault.
"That blows my mind because he had been at other jobs for years and never had an incident," she said. "And here he can’t even complete a month without… dying."
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