I subscribe to an email list of disaster/law research that comes out of University of California, Berkeley. A contributor to that list, Professor Denis Binder (Chapman University, California) has put together a list of worldwide criminal prosecutions in non-terrorist disasters and tragedies. The initial list, from 2016, is on his website at http://denisbinder.com/criminal-prosecutions-for-disasters/
Professor Binder has just issued a 2018 list. He says:
… The original posting included 200 incidents. This revised listing includes 421 incidents, many of which preceded the earlier posting date of September 26, 2016. Much of the increase is due to the ability to uncover prior incidents, many of which received little publicity or have been forgotten in time. One example is the October 22, 1895 French railroad crash with the classic photo of the locomotive resting at a 90° angle outside the station. I could easily find it once I had a clue on what to look for. Another reason is the increased posting online of earlier publications.
This list will never be complete. Do not therefore treat it as 100% accurate or definitive. Instead view it as a “ball park” figure, representative of the cases. For example, India leads the listings with building collapses followed by China with mining disasters. Other incidents exist in these countries, but it not always possible to find reports of criminal prosecutions in every reported building collapse or mining disaster. My listings are for those which I can ascertain criminal proceedings on the internet.
The criteria for listing remains the same in 2018 as in 2016. Listings are based on incidents with at least one fatality, except for environmental disasters with extensive environmental damages, such as oil spills contaminating hundreds of miles of shoreline…
Workplace accidents and construction accidents are common globally. They are not included in the listing, unless a major tragedy such as the 2015 1,350 ton crane collapse at Mecca with 111 fatalities or the 2016 scaffolding collapse in Fengcheng, China, killing 74 workers on a cooling tower under construction. In those situations I added similar incidents with a fatality to the list…
The lists do not include an analysis of the results, which can be found for the first listing at Denis Binder, The Findings of an Empirical Study of the Application of Criminal Law in Non-Terrorist Disasters and Tragedies, https://doe.org/10.1016/jfutures.2018.01.008 and Denis Binder, The Findings of an Updated Study of the application of Criminal Law in Non-Terrorist Disasters and Tragedies, 9 The Bus. & Mgmt. Rev. 153, Vol 2 (November 2017).
My theses in collecting the cases were multiple:
1) A substantial increase in prosecutions have occurred in the New Millennium;
2) Cases often involve government officials and employees for corruption, dereliction of duty, and negligence;
3) Many of the cases arise in Asia and the Pacific Islands, and
4) The substantial increase in prosecutions in the New Millennium is probably caused by the widespread use of cell phones with photo and video capability and social media.
I cannot prove the fourth premise. Nor can I often explain why some incidents result in prosecutions while similar ones do not.
Two surprising discoveries were the large number of cases in which charges were brought against architects and especially engineers. The second surprise is that a number of cases dragged on for over a decade. Delays in initiating legal proceedings can be due to the technical expertise that must be used to determine the cause of the incident and the extent of human involvement in the disaster and tragedy.
The 2018 list is not yet online but Professor Binder does say that he ‘will be posting it on line shortly’. The list isn’t of obvious application to readers of this blog, but it’s interesting and being interested, you may want to go an look at it.