Dead workers' families file lawsuit over Raleigh scaffolding collapse
Posted January 7, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — The families of three workers killed last March in a scaffolding collapse at a downtown Raleigh high-rise filed suit Thursday against four firms that worked on the project or provided the scaffolding for it.
Jose Erasmo Hernandez, 41, of Durham; Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, 33, of Clinton; and Anderson Almeida, 33, of Durham, fell to their deaths March 23 at the Charter Square construction site at the corner of South and Fayetteville streets. A fourth worker, Elmer Guevara, 53, was treated for serious injuries.
The accident involved equipment known as a mast climber scaffold, which moves up and down a building's facade to transport workers to different floors. Workers were in the process of dismantling the scaffold when one of the tracks snapped off and fell into a twisted heap on the ground.
"This is a tragedy that never should have occurred," John Edwards, an attorney for the three families, said in a statement.
The lawsuit alleges that Choate Construction, the general contractor on the project, rushed the dismantling of the scaffold, which forced subcontractor Associated Scaffolding Inc. to load sections of the scaffolding as it was taken down onto the platform with the workers. The platform was supposed to hold no more than 2,500 pounds, but it was carrying more than 4,200 pounds when it fell, according to the lawsuit.
The vertical mast also wasn't properly anchored to the Charter Square building, which led to the collapse, the suit alleges.
In addition to Choate and Associated Scaffolding, the lawsuit names Klimer Platforms Ltd. and Klimer Platforms Inc. as defendants. The two firms supplied the scaffolding for the Charter Square project, and the suit alleges they didn't properly train the contractors on site how to construct and operate the mast climber.
"Very simple protocols for building, inspecting and operating this scaffolding were not followed, and the result is heartbreak for these families," attorney David Kirby said.
The North Carolina Department of Labor cited Associated Scaffolding for not installing the scaffolding according to manufacturer's recommendations, overloading the platform and failing to provide a competent person to oversee operation of the mast climber.
Two other subcontractors also were cited for workplace safety violations, but the Labor Department didn't find any violations by Choate.
Mike Hampton, chief operating officer for Choate, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying company officials hadn't been served with it yet. He called the collapse "a terrible tragedy for the families and everyone involved."
Associated Scaffolding also declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying in a statement, "This was a very tragic accident, and all of us at Associated Scaffolding have been and remain concerned about the families involved. Associated Scaffolding is committed to safety and has had an excellent safety record for more than 68 years."