Large construction projects are common in New York City. Such projects usually involve many parties, including developers, architects and designers, general contractors, and scores of sub-contractors. When an accident occurs on the work site, untangling the various legal relationships can be a difficult task. A trial arose from a tragic accident that occurred at a building site on East 126th Street in East Harlem.
Laborers were installing a glass curtain wall on the building when a small crane, being used to lift the panes of glass, tore away from its anchor and fell to the ground five stories below. Two men working on the floor below where the crane was operating suffered serious injuries when the crane fell. One of the workers was knocked to the concrete deck and suffered permanent spinal injuries. Another worker on the same floor was pulled from the building by the falling crane and fell to the ground. This worker suffered spinal cord injuries and very serious brain trauma. He has been in a rehabilitation facility ever since the accident occurred.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has commenced a criminal trial based on the facts of the accident. The prosecutors have targeted the two men who were supervising the work of the crane with charges of criminal negligence for failing to take proper safety measures. The employer of the two workers, Western Specialty Contractors, was facing financial penalties because the work was falling behind schedule. The prosecutors are claiming that Western Specialty and its employees chose to elevate financial concerns above worker safety to avoid monetary penalties. One of the principal safety rules that was allegedly violated was the failure to employ a trained operator to operate the mini-crane.
According to media reports of the trial, the record is filled with conflicting testimony from numerous witnesses about the adequacy of safety measures and supervision. The case is likely to last several weeks. A civil trial involving damages for the two injured workers is also moving through the court system. Because the two workers’ damages far exceed their workers’ compensation benefits, the workers commenced separate lawsuits against parties other than their employers seeking damages for medical expenses, lost income, and permanent disability. Such “third-party claims” are a common occurrence in cases involving serious physical injury and negligence on the part of parties that are not employers of the injured workers.
Changing the perspective
However it ends, this case is expected to write a new chapter in New York City’s law of criminal conduct in construction projects.