Tower cranes are essential to the construction, maintenance, and repair of skyscrapers and other tall buildings. But not until recently did most states pass laws regulating tower cranes and their operators. Unfortunately, tower cranes can cause serious injury or even death when something goes wrong. For example, in one case a man was killed while in his apartment when the 210-foot-high tower crane being used on the adjacent high-rise building collapsed. In another case, two people were killed and four injured in a one-story building by a tower crane when a section of the crane apparently disengaged during a lift on the 39th floor of an adjacent 46-story condominium project.
In another case, an inspector falsified an inspection report on a tower crane that later fell and killed seven people. In still another case, the tower crane dislodged some chunks from the top of the building, killing an executive walking below. A worker on a downtown Calgary, Canada construction site died when he was crushed by 1,800 kilograms of building materials that slipped out of a tower crane sling. The man was working as a rigger, assisting the tower-crane operator with moving material on the 21st floor of a building. A sling was being used to move heavy concrete forms from one part of the top floor to another when the load shifted and fell out, crushing the 27-year-old man to death.
In March 2008, two people were killed and five injured when a 7-ton section of a crane in Miami fell 30 stories. That same month, seven people died when a 200-foot tower crane fell and crushed a building in Manhattan. Two months later, the arm of another New York crane fell and killed two people.
In November 1989, a tower-crane accident occurred in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district, killing five people. As a result of that incident, California enacted some of the toughest—if not indeed the strictest—regulations relating to tower cranes. For instance, tower cranes in California are supposed to be inspected three times before the first load is lifted. State-certified inspectors perform the first two inspections, and Cal-OSHA does the third. Once the crane is in operation, they must undergo intensive inspections every six months. In between these formal inspections, crane operators are expected to conduct daily checks of the tower crane, and perform more rigorous inspections for every 750 hours of operation. And inspectors must be on the scene when the tower crane is being “jumped” (a section being added or taken out) or dismantled. Despite California’s stringent laws and regulations of tower cranes, Cal-OSHA inspectors routinely find safety violations. Some are so serious that the crane owner must make immediate repairs or force being shut down on the spot.
Many if not most tower crane injuries and deaths can be prevented by making sure the component parts are in good condition and that the tower crane was installed and used properly. The tower crane must be operated by a certified operator. In many states, it has only been in the last few years that operators of tower cranes have been required to be certified. Before that, a novice with an hour or two’s worth of instruction could operate the tower crane.
In the standard tower crane, several weeks before the crane arrives, a concrete pad extending some 25 feet into the ground is poured and reinforced with steel rebar. Large anchor bolts are embedded deep into the cement pad, holding the crane in place. One tower crane was anchored by being bolted into steel “I” beams that were welded to other steel beams. This crane collapsed, killing one person.
Once a tower crane is erected, but before it lifts its first load, a Cal-OSHA inspector spends about six hours looking for loose bolts, cracked welds, rust, and problems with fail-safe devices, or frayed cables. In most inspections, defects are found that can run from a minor problem to a major condition. Most safety breaches usually do not result in the tower crane being shut down or formal citation being issued and fines imposed. Where there is a shutdown, the whole construction job comes to a halt or slows considerably, costing the developer potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Operating a tower crane is among the most highly specialized skills in construction. Operators of tower cranes cannot see the loads they are picking up and must use a radio to communicate with workers on the ground to move its load to the correct position. One wrong move can have tragic consequences. In March 2007, two construction workers in Florida were killed when a tower crane plummeted 30 stories onto a condominium project. From 1996 to 2006, more than 50 people had died in crane accidents in Florida.
OSHA requires that the tower crane be inspected only once a year. After the 1989 catastrophe, California passed legislation requiring inspections every six months and mandating that operators submit drawings of the crane’s placement before receiving a permit. California law also requires that the inspectors of the tower crane to be independent and not employees of the owner or contractor, and have no financial interest in the development. Since these laws were passed, no one has died in a tower crane accident in California.
Different laws apply if the injured or deceased person (1) was an employee of the company that made or installed the tower crane, (2) was injured while working on or by the tower crane but was not employed by the tower crane company, or (3) was an innocent passer-by or bystander who is hurt or killed by the tower crane or items falling from it.
In the first situation, if you are employed by the company that made, supplied, and erected the dangerous tower crane, and are injured in the process of constructing, inspecting, maintaining, or dismantling the tower crane, then your rights are largely determined by the laws of worker’s compensation. Worker’s compensation provides benefits to the injured worker regardless of who was at fault. Indeed, the injured worker is entitled to worker’s compensation benefits even if the injuries were due to his or her own carelessness (“negligence”). The trade-off is that the amount of benefits the worker receives under worker’s compensation is considerably less than they would be if he or she were able to sue the company for negligence. Your wife and children are entitled only to worker’s compensation death benefits, which are much less than what they would be able to receive if they were allowed to sue the guilty employer.
In the second situation, if you work for another company, subcontractor, or are self-employed, and are using the tower crane while doing your work, then you may be able to bring a lawsuit for your injuries against the manufacturer, erector, inspector, or other party involved in the construction, maintenance, inspection, or dismantling of the tower crane.
In the third situation, innocent third persons who were standing, walking, or driving by the tower crane and were killed or injured when the tower crane collapsed due to improper erection or maintenance, may have a lawsuit against a number of entities. Some of the persons or entities that may be held legally responsible (“liable”) for the injuries to someone hurt in the tower crane-related accident include the engineers who designed the tower crane, the tower crane company itself, the supplier, the inspector, the operator, or the job-site supervisor. The owner or lessor of the land on which the faulty tower crane was located may also be liable for the injuries or death.
If a tower crane has collapsed, dropped materials, or otherwise hurt or killed a person, Cal-OSHA will conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. The investigation may take several weeks or six months or more. The Cal-OSHA investigators will want to find out whether the accident was due to this particular tower crane, such as a faulty weld or defective bolt, or if the problem was one that could affect all other tower cranes of this make.
Some of the questions that will affect your right to sue the party(ies) at fault include:
An experienced personal injury law firm can also help with seeing to it that you obtain appropriate and thorough medical care for your physical, emotional, and psychological injuries suffered as a result of the accident. They can also do everything possible to ensure that you obtain full compensation for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish, property damage, lost wages, and all of your other injuries and damages.
If you have been injured or a loved one killed due to a tower crane collapse or other failure, you should contact an attorney experienced in this type of law as soon as possible. The attorney will want to send his or her investigator to the scene of the accident as soon as possible to take pictures of the scene before it has been cleaned up or altered in any way. The attorney or investigator will also want to interview witnesses to the accident while memories are still fresh. Don’t delay, call now – (888) 845-9696.