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Shortly before this new year, the estate of a worker killed when he fell into an unprotected sewage augur settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Marysville, its Canadian contractor American Process Group, Inc., and the machine’s lessor, Synagro-WWT, Inc. and its related entities for a combined amount of over $9.8 million.

Sergey Devyatkin was a Russian immigrant working the night shift at the 2022 City of Marysville Biosolids Removal and Remediation Project. His employer, American Process Group, Inc., assigned Mr. Devyatkin to clean a machine that drained wastewater from solids dredged from the city’s sewage settlement pond. To do so, he had to stand atop a series of angled panel grates, open one, and direct a jet of water with a fire hose through the unguarded opening to wash a set of two churning augurs located a few inches below the panels. He fell in. The augurs ripped his body apart and ejected his body parts out the end of the machine, killing him. A truckdriver nearby heard him screaming. It was Mr. Devyatkin’s first day on the job and the last scheduled day of the machine’s operation at the project.

Although the City of Marysville had reserved to itself contract authority over project safety, it had done nothing to ensure worker safety, other than to approve its contractor’s plans. Those plans were generic and had no site-specific requirements focused on the hazards that led to Mr. Devyatkin’s death.  

The machine had no interlock to stop the augurs when the panels were raised. No fence or similar guard surrounded the open hole. American Process Group had a written “lock out tag out” policy requiring its workers to turn off the machine before cleaning it. But co-workers testified in depositions that the rule was routinely ignored by management because it was not possible to quickly clean the augurs effectively unless they were turning. Fall protection harnesses were not used. The estate’s lawyers were prepared to argue a harness would have made no difference due to the very short distance from the panels to the augurs.

An employee told the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) he knew that anyone who fell into the augurs while they were turning would die.  Mr. Devyatkin’s estate were prepared to demonstrate that American Process Group forged worker signatures on its daily safety briefing reports. The company’s on-site supervisor testified in deposition that the worker overseeing Mr. Devyatkin, who was not near him at the time of the incident, was previously known to be under the influence of alcohol at work.  The corporation’s Safety Officer had never visited the site. 

American Process Group was the lowest bidder on the City of Marysville project, had previously performed similar work there, and had recently completed similar work for the City of Everett. American Process Group has conducted numerous other similar dewatering operations using the same type of machine. No similar prior incident has been reported.

Mr. Devyatkin’s sole survivor is his mother. A recent change to Washington law removed the bar to claims made by parents who live overseas for wrongful death of their children. The settlement funds were paid by insurers for American Process Group, which had agreed to indemnify the City and the Synagro defendants, and by the latter’s insurer. The estate used some of the settlement funds to reimburse the DLI, which had paid a survivor pension to Mr. Devyatkin’s mother. 

One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Daniel Laurence of the law firm Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore, commented, “I have defended and prosecuted catastrophic injury product liability lawsuits for over 33 years, and have never seen such a dangerous machine or so terrible a death. I stood where Sergey stood with the machine turned off and it still terrified me.  If that augur were to catch one shoelace, that would almost surely be the end of you. The defendants knew this machine would eventually kill someone in a most gruesome way unless good luck prevailed. The reality is that laborers on jobs like this are dependent on their wages to survive. The fear that if they rock the boat and call a ‘time out’ for safety where the company’s actions show it obviously doesn’t care about safety, they may lose their jobs.”  

The Stritmatter firm lawyers Daniel Laurence, Brad J. Moore and Melanie Nguyen, represented the family. The Stritmatter firm is a nationally recognized law firm known for representing victims of wrongful death, serious personal injuries, and civil rights violations.