Seabird Sanctuary Founder Protects Birds, Not Employees

seabirdSuncoast Seabird Sanctuary founder, Ralph Heath, has been charged with workers’ compensation fraud for operating the sanctuary without insurance for his employees.

He was issued a stop work order because he had no insurance and allegedly ignored that as well. Though Heath doesn’t think he did anything wrong and would not admit to the charges. The facility contains an emergency room, surgery center, indoor and outdoor rehab areas and treats about 10,000 birds a year. It is supported by private donations.

The sanctuary was operating without insurance between March 11, 2012 and October 12, 2012. Heath says this was because of a mistake with the insurance company, who failed to notify him of the lapse in coverage.

“We didn’t intentionally operate without insurance,” he said. “As far as we knew, we were completely A-okay.”

Apparently the sanctuary has been having trouble for quite some time, even though it is recognized worldwide as a top rehabilitation center. The IRS filed a $109,283 tax lien against them and Ronald Cooper filed a lawsuit to foreclose on a mortgage for another property owned by the center.

Reports from the IRS state that Heath bought a beach-front home and used a “company yacht” for parties or trips. All this extravagance, yet he was still unable to provide workers’ comp insurance.

The sanctuary has not taken in any animals since January and closed its hospital in March. Heath says it remains open and continues to collect donations; officials are hoping to reopen the hospital if they collect enough money.

The thing is, even if your business is serving a good purpose (though considering the seagulls I encounter on the Jersey Shore I might disagree with their mission), you still need insurance for your workers. What if someone got their eye poked out by an unruly bird? Working around animals is risky, and doing so without proper coverage is even riskier.

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