Jury awards $16.3m to family of worker killed on Californian construction site

A Los Angeles jury last week awarded the family of a man killed while working on a wastewater project $16.3m in compensation, as fines for safety violations rise steeply in the US.

The accident occurred in August 2011, when Edgar Gonzalez was helping to constructing a concrete wall at the Hyperion plant (pictured) near Playa del Rey in Los Angeles. He fell after the formwork to which he was anchored came away from the wall; he was then struck by pieces of formwork, which weighed several thousand pounds, after he fell.

The jury determined that his employer, Atlas Construction Supply, did not provide the mean to secure the wall’s formwork to which 30-year-old Edgar Gonzalez was connected when he fell 30 feet to his death.

The incident could have been avoided if Atlas’ engineer just took the time to read the available project plans closely to understand the condition at the site– Lars Johnson, Gonzalez family attorney

After a day’s deliberation, jurors awarded $3.5m in economic damages and $23.5m in non-economic damages to Gonzalez’s wife, Rosa, and their two children.

Total damages to the family were set at $27m, but the jury assessed Atlas’ fault at 55%. The remainder of the liability was assigned to USS Cal builders, Gonzalez’s employer.

Mr Gonzalez’s widow also sued Mr Crane Inc, the crane operator at the site. This was settled out of court for $650,000. Half that sum went to her and the remainder was divided equally between her 12-year-old son, Aaron, and seven-year-old daughter, Atarah.

USS Cal Builders was constructing a gas compressor facility on the Hyperion site, and hired Atlas to provide plans and specifications for the design and implementation of the form structures, according to the LA Times.

Attorneys for Atlas argued that the blame should rest with Gonzalez’s employer and Mr Crane, which placed the wall-form panel in place. However, Lars Johnson, the attorney for the Gonzalez family, successfully argued that "the incident could have been avoided if Atlas’ engineer just took the time to read the available project plans closely to understand the condition at the site".

US website Construction Dive commented that that the high damages payable by contractors reflect the tougher line being taken by state prosecutors and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

A much higher pay-out was awarded earlier this year, when the family of a worker killed in 2013 was awarded $54m. The man, Angel Garcia, was working on a stadium renovation project at a football field belonging to Texas A&M University. He was using the bucket of his Caterpillar loader on a fourth-floor spiral ramp to catch falling concrete debris when a heavy piece of concrete tipped the loader over, causing Garcia to fall almost 40 feet.

This month, OSHA will raise its maximum civil penalties by 78%, which means that fines for serious violations of its safety code will rise from $7,000 to $12,471, and fines for repeated violations will increase from $70,000 to $124,709.

According to the agency, 4,821 US workers across all sectors died while carrying out their jobs in 2014, the highest annual total since 2008, with 20.5% of fatalities occurring in construction.

Image: The Hyperion sewage plant in El Segundo, where Edgar Gonzalez was killed in 2011 (Ken Lund/Wikimedia Commons)

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  1. It is utterly disgraceful when the safety of each and everyone on site is not provided for in that legislated safety measures are simply ignored and many highly hazardous procedures are allowed in spite of
    proven risks and a long list of previous deadly failures!

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