A Manhattan trial judge issued a series of decisions in the last few weeks in connection with a civil case stemming from the 91st Street crane collapse that occurred in May, 2008. The collapse received widespread media attention due to the deaths of two workers (including the crane operator), and subsequent criminal charges against a mechanic and the owner of New York Crane, James Lomma. The 91st Street collapse was just one in a series of tower crane accidents at the time, prompting the City to strengthen its crane safety laws.
The mechanic, Tibor Varganyi, pled guilty to negligent homicide in exchange for his testimony that Mr. Lomma had an important weld repair performed by an inexperienced company in China because he wanted to save money. However, Mr. Lomma was acquitted of serious charges including second-degree manslaughter after a lengthy bench trial.
In the civil case, the court granted summary judgment to an engineering firm (McLaren Engineering) that was hired by the New York City Buildings Department, because it was only contracted to inspect the tower mast upon which the crane rested. Although there were several theories as to the cause of the accident, including the failed weld and operator error, there was no claim that the tower mast had anything to do with the accident. Accordingly, the court dismissed the deceased workers’ claims against McLaren.
Earlier, on March 3, Justice Manual Mendez refused to dismiss welding contractor Brady Marine Repair Co., even though it did not work on the weld that caused the accident. Since Brady’s invoice stated that it would “test all welds” on the crane, Justice Mendez determined that a jury should decide the scope of work that it committed to perform.
The Construction Manager, DeMatteis Construction, also moved for summary judgment, claiming that its subcontractor, Sorbara Construction, was solely responsible for the selection, operation and maintenance of the crane, and that DeMatteis did not supervise or control Sorbara’s work. Justice Mendez similarly denied this motion, finding issues of fact as to whether DeMatteis was negligent. Various claims against Lomma and New York Crane, as well as Sorbara, will move forward.