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Fatal building collapse brings criminal charges & lawsuits

In news reports about construction and demolition accidents, the injured victims are often workers doing the construction or demolition. They may have been harmed due to negligent planning, unsafe working conditions or a host of other safety hazards.

As tragic as these cases are, it is even more tragic to hear about construction/demolition accidents that injure and kill others near the worksite. In densely populated cities here in California and throughout the country, on-the-job safety is even more important precisely because of how close worksites may be to neighboring buildings.

Readers here in the Bay Area may remember a tragedy that occurred two years ago on the other side of the country. In June 2013, a masonry wall collapsed during building demolition and fell onto a one-story Salvation Army thrift store next to the worksite. The collapse killed six people and left another 13 victims injured.

Two people faced criminal charges in the wake of the accident: The operator of the excavator and the demolition contractor who hired him. An accident investigation revealed that the contractor ordered the demolition of the front and rear walls first because he wanted to salvage wooden beams and joists in the demolished buildings. This left a three-story masonry wall unsupported by the rest of the structure. That wall should have been dismantled by hand from the top down.

The excavator operator recently pled guilty to several criminal charges and will likely be imprisoned for between 10 and 20 years. The contractor has yet to be tried. The two men and the site developer have also been named as defendants in a number of civil lawsuits.

After accidents like this, it is common for victims and their families to seek compensation for personal injury, wrongful death and premises liability. While no amount of money can replace what has been lost, victim compensation is nonetheless necessary and appropriate.

Source: Philly.com, "Guilty plea in Salvation Army thrift store collapse," Joseph A. Slobodzian, July 21, 2015

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