Quebec tribunal denies compensation to family of migrant worker who died on farm
MONTREAL — The family of a Guatemalan farm worker crushed to death trying to repair a flat tire on his employer’s car says they are disappointed Quebec’s labour tribunal denied them compensation.
María Teresa Lares Macario said she has not been able to recover from the sudden death of her father, Ottoniel Lares Batzibal, who died July 18, 2021, trapped under a car in the garage of Les Cultures Fortin Inc., a fruit and vegetable farm south of Quebec City.
“The truth is we are not doing well," Lares Macario, 22, said in an interview on Thursday. "We miss my father more each day. He was a humble and hard-working man who loved his family."
Administrative judge Valérie Lizotte ruled Feb. 7 that Lares Batzibal was using his employer’s car outside work hours and that his “good intentions” to fix a flat tire were not related to his official duties.
“After analysis, the tribunal concluded that the worker’s death did not occur in the course of his employment," Lizotte wrote. "Consequently, the estate cannot benefit from the death benefits provided for by law."
Michel Pilon, who heads an organization that advocates for migrant workers in the province and represented the family, argued to the tribunal that Lares Batzibal’s death was work-related because he often acted as a designated driver to other farm employees.
“Even though he was not being paid at the time of the accident, I argued that he was the designated driver and driving his colleagues around was part of his work duties whether it was for leisure, to buy food or for work," Pilon said in an interview.
For its part, the company said that repairing a flat tire was a personal decision and outside of Lares Batzibal’s professional responsibilities. Les Cultures Fortin Inc. was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
“We are disappointed; it’s unjust," Lares Macario said. "My dad worked on that farm for 12 seasons. The compensation could have really helped us because we have no money. My dad was the breadwinner."
Pilon said that had the tribunal ruled in the family's favour, they would have been eligible for about $100,000.
Lares Macario and her mother, Norma Macario Tucubal, 41, have now resorted to selling embroidered textiles in their village on the outskirts of Guatemala City, she said.
The family did receive a $50,000 life insurance payout, but Lares Macario explained that most of it went to pay for the medical bill of her younger sister, Rumalda Maricela Lares Macario, who fell ill after her father’s death and died on July 15, 2022, at age 20.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Marisela Amador, The Canadian Press