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Regulatory: Environmental disasters and criminal investigations

The overlap of civil and criminal government investigations can be a thorny issue for businesses

Despite volumes of government regulations related to workplace safety, and enormous resources devoted by businesses to safety, we still experience major industrial disasters. Most recently that list includes the explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant, as well as many smaller incidents. Needless to say, such nightmare scenarios raise difficult issues, including the initial emergency response, business disruptions with customers and suppliers, press questioning, inquiries from various elected officials, internal personnel and labor issues, disclosure obligations, and on and on.

The challenges are significantly increased by the number of different government agencies that converge on incident sites. Depending on the type of incident, they may include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Coast Guard, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), the Mine Safety and Health Administration and other federal agencies, in addition to their state counterparts and state and local police. Many of these agencies will be seeking information—in the form of documents, physical site inspections, answers to agency queries and employee interviews—and insisting on very quick responses, typically before the company has completed its own internal investigation.

Contributing Author

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Ronald A. Sarachan

Ronald A. Sarachan is a partner in Drinker Biddle & Reath's Commercial Litigation Practice Group and co-chair of the White Collar/Internal Investigations Team. He focuses...

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