Settlement in Death at UCLA-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Settlement in Death at UCLA

For a number of years now I have been updating you on the progress of the case involving a grad student at UCLA who died from the use of a pyrophoric material in a chemical laboratory.  After much legal wrangling, the case has been settled.  The result is a deferred-prosecution agreement in which the Principal Investigator, Patrick Harran, will probably not face a trial or jail time.

Dr. Harran was the first academic chemist in the US to face criminal charges as a result of a lab accident.  He was charged with three felony counts of a “willful violation of an occupational safety and health standard causing the death of an employee.”   The settlement includes a payment of $10,000 to the burn unit where the student was treated, the requirement to develop lab-safety training tools for a class he will teach for five years to underprivileged students entering university, speaking to incoming UCLA students about the importance of lab safety, and conducting 800 hours of non-teaching community service at a hospital.  If Dr. Harran violates any of the terms of the agreement, the case will go to trial.  If he does not, the charges will be dismissed after five years.

Reactions to the verdict were varied.  The student’s family was “extremely disappointed” in the result and noted that Dr. Harran has been “completely unrepentant” about not providing proper training for the experiment which caused his employee’s death.  Notable lab safety experts also expressed disappointment with the result, though noting that the case and the resultant publicity has already shed welcome light on the importance of lab safety and already produced marked changes in the way universities address it.

For further information on the subject, please check this article:

http://www.nature.com/news/chemist-reaches-agreement-with-prosecutors-over-lab-death-1.15444

By: Mark Banister, markb2@andrew.cmu.edu, 412-268-1493