8 Major (and Expensive) Construction Accidents of the 2000s

8 Major (and Expensive) Construction Accidents of the 2000s

By David DeMoss

Unfortunately, construction accidents account for a major part of workplace injuries and fatalities, with 1 in 10 construction site workers getting injured every year; these injuries end up costing companies 15% of workers’ compensation nationwide. So, what were the costliest construction accidents thus far? 

In 2003, a Tropicana Casino and Resort parking garage collapsed, killing 4 construction workers and injuring 36 others – $101 million. Another incident involved a 20-year-old construction worker that was dared by his boss to jump off a bridge into freezing water 10 feet below, in exchange for money. The water turned out to only be one foot deep – $97 million. Lastly, a general contractor was running behind on his project, so instead of cutting off six inches of pillar at a time to drop into a front-end loader below, the contractor increased the size to 2.5 feet at a time. This resulted in 15,000 pounds of falling debris rather than the 2,700 pounds that the front-end loader was equipped to handle, causing the construction worker operating the machinery to fall off the side of the stadium four stories to the ground, resulting in his death – $56 million. These examples of unfortunate and costly situations pose as a good reminder to take time and evaluate the safety of situations, as well as ensuring that a good insurance policy is in place if anything were to occur. Read more by Hannah Smith below.

It’s no secret that construction accidents account for more workplace injuries and fatalities than any other sector. In fact, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has reported that 1 in 10 construction site workers are injured every year, costing a full 15% of workers’ compensation costs countrywide.

The following is a compilation of eight of the most expensive construction accident cases so far this century. It illustrates the incidents that were the most costly for employers, the types of injuries sustained, the amounts of settlements and jury verdicts, and the basis for liability. The research was conducted using the specialized search feature at our sister publication VerdictSearch.

1. Who bears responsibility for a parking garage collapse?

Many will remember the 2003 Tropicana Casino and Resort parking garage collapse, which killed four construction workers and injured 36 others. Tragically, the eighth level of the parking garage collapsed down into the fifth level of the parking garage while construction workers were working on the garage. Several workers were trapped in the rubble. The workers involved in the accident consolidated their cases and sued several defendants, including Tropicana, its parent companies, and the companies involved in planning and constructing the garage.

The defendants each claimed that their co-defendants were responsible for the tragedy because their duties were property delegated.

Settlement: $101 million

2. Was frugality the cause of a deadly crane collapse?

Two men were working at a construction site constructing a 34-story building. One man was working on the ground, installing plumbing, and the other was operating a freestanding tower crane. The crane broke off of its supporting turntable and collapsed. The crane operator, contained in the crane’s cabin, plummeted more than 200 feet, and the ground worker became pinned beneath the fallen crane. Both men suffered fatal injuries. During the year preceding the accident, an inspection revealed a large crack along the crane’s turntable, which resulted in the New York City Department of Buildings’ immediate order of suspension of usage for that crane. In an attempt to incur a lower cost, the repair work was assigned to a company that doubted its own ability to perform the required welding adequately and had suggested that a different company could more properly perform the weld.

Plaintiff’s counsel claimed that the collapse resulted from a defective weld and that the defendant’s willfully and recklessly failed to ensure the structural integrity of the crane.

The administrators of the estates sued several parties, including the company that welded the turntable and the company that inspected the turntable’s welds. The defendant’s impleaded the employer of the deceased men, alleging that the employer negligently failed to ensure the crane’s structural integrity.

Settlement: $95,971,644

3. Does a dangerous dare by a supervisor implicate the employer?

A 20-year-old construction worker was paralyzed after diving headfirst into one-foot deep water in the Indian River. He and his colleagues were waiting for a seawall to harden when his boss and co-workers dared him to jump off of a bridge into freezing water in exchange for money. He dove from 10 feet above the river into water that was one foot deep and landed on his head. He was diagnosed with quadriplegia and remains unable to move his arms or legs. He sued his employer for negligence. The judge ruled in the workers’ favor and sent the case to a jury to determine appropriate damages.

Verdict: $76,647,544

4. Who is liable when death and injury is proximately caused by high winds 

Several tons of scaffolding fell from the top of the 100 foot tall John Hancock building in Chicago, causing two deaths and injuries to several other people. On the day of the incident, the National Weather Service issued a high-wind advisory. After a big gust of wind, a piece of scaffolding landed on a car, killing two of its occupants and injuring two others. A Good Samaritan was injured while attempting to rescue the victims trapped in the vehicle. Two occupants of another crushed car were also injured, and two onlookers claimed PTSD from witnessing the carnage.

The plaintiffs sued several parties, including the scaffolding manufacturer and installers, and all of the building owners, and claimed, among other things, that after changes were made to the scaffolding structure, there was a failure to issue a final safety review of the reconstructed scaffolding. They argued that although the scaffolding that fell was only supposed to weigh 7,000 pounds, at the time of installation, it actually weighed about 10,000 pounds. They also argued that the operations manual required that the scaffolding be lowered to the ground or raised to the roof when high winds occurred, but the scaffolding was left in place on the side of the building and that there were other safety requirements breached prior to the accident.

The defendants settled with the personal injury claimants.

Settlement: $75,200,000

5. Passing train caused building collapse which caused permanent injuries 

A laborer was working on a construction site removing machinery used to transport a pre-manufactured building. The task he was working on required him to slide under the building. A train passed the construction site, which caused the ground to vibrate, causing the 11,000-pound building collapsed on top of him, causing several bodily injuries.

He sued his employer, the general contractor, and the sub-contractor in charge of the project, arguing that the construction site was not properly prepared for the job and that neither the contractor nor the sub-contractor had the necessary permits for the job.

The defendants were found to be at varying degrees of fault by the jury.

Verdict: $64,500,000. Reduced to $9,675,000 due to comparative negligence.

6. Company liable after failure to train injured laborer on important safety procedures 

A laborer was installing metal siding on a building, working from a scaffold that hung alongside the building. He wore a safety harness and was provided a rope to secure himself to the building. The worker was instructed to move from the scaffold to the roof to help hoist some equipment. He complied, but in doing so, fell off the roof, plummeting 20 feet to the ground. He sustained severe injuries to his back, spine, and head.

Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the building’s roof did not have a secure point to connect the harness and that he had not been trained to identify anchor points and would not have been able to effectively deploy a fall-prevention system. Plaintiff’s counsel also claimed that the worker had not been provided proper and safe equipment.

The defense counsel contended that adequate safety equipment had been available, but that the worker failed to utilize that equipment. The jury found that the property owner and the general contractor were both liable for the injuries sustained due to a violation of New York’s labor law.

Verdict: $62,000,000

7. Denial of lane closure caused a motorist to strike laborer 

A construction worker in California was working on a project his company had contracted for with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The worker was working at 1 a.m. stooped in a trench when he was struck by a vehicle that had drifted into the shoulder. The worker suffered a traumatic brain injury and became quadriplegic. The other worker in the trench claimed he suffered from PTSD after witnessing the accident.

Plaintiff’s counsel argued that due to another construction project, on a bigger contract, being executed in the opposite lane of traffic, Caltrans had denied the request to close the lane of traffic next to the shoulder in which the laborer was working, and that Caltrans had initially placed a backhoe in front of the trench to protect the workers, but that backhoe had been moved prior to the accident.

Caltrans argued that when the lane closure was denied, the contracted company had been authorized a “shoulder closure” in order to prevent a “tunneling effect” due to construction occurring in both directions on the road and that the contractor had agreed to do the work with the shoulder closed but the lane open. Caltrans also argued that even if the backhoe had remained in its defensive position in front of the trench and was struck from behind, it would have moved forward enough to fall into the trench and likely would have struck both workers causing serious injury or death.

The jury found Caltrans negligent and that the negligence created a dangerous condition, and although the driver had acted negligently, her negligence was not a substantial factor in the harm caused to the worker. Thus, Caltrans was 100% liable for the accident.

Verdict: $59,253,846

8. Demolition worker fell four stories in front-end loader 

A worker was employed by a demolition company working on a construction project in a stadium and was operating a front-end loader being used to catch debris from concrete pillars that were being demolished by employees of a cutting subcontractor. While doing this task, the loader fell over the side of the stadium and down four stories to the ground. The worker sustained fatal injuries.

The plans drafted for the construction project called for the sub-contractors employees to saw off six inches of the pillars at a time. The general contractor was facing contractual financial penalties for late completion of the project and increased the size of the pillar cuttings to 2.5 feet. Due to this increase in pillar size, the loader that the decedent was operating had to catch debris striking with about 15,000 pounds of force, when the loader had only been rated for 2,700 pounds.

OSHA cited the sub-contractors for the accident for violating safety regulations.

Additionally, the worker did not have the certification to operate the loader. Plaintiff’s counsel claimed that the employer attempted to file falsified paperwork of certification after the accident occurred.

Despite defendants claims that the decedent was liable for the fall and was fully certified, the jury found the decedents employer and the general contractor to be at fault.

Verdict: $55,834,971

To read the full article, click here.