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$48 million verdict for plaintiffs in Manhattan crane deaths

Seven years ago, two people died when a crane toppled in Manhattan. Last month, their families finally got long-delayed justice in a civil trial that was one of New York City's longest.

A jury awarded the family members of the deceased crane operator and another construction worker a verdict of over $48.3 million. This figure only covered their pain, suffering and economic losses, however. Another hearing will determine the amount of any punitive damages against the companies and their owner.

The attorney for one family stated that her clients were seeking "substantial punitive damages" from a "man who calls himself the 'King of Cranes.'"

The trial began last September in Manhattan's State Supreme Court. Legal delays and a mistrial slowed the wheels of justice, but eventually a jury comprised of two men and six women listened to 110 days' worth of testimony from scores of witnesses. They included the owner of the company, who skated free on criminal charges in the accident three years prior, as well as an official with the city Buildings Department and metallurgy experts.

The owner was found at fault for allowing a defective bearing to be used to repair the crane. Evidence presented indicated that the bearing that rotated the crane on its tower had been improperly welded by a Chinese company. Attorneys for plaintiffs argued the company owner knew the metal ring was defective and had hired that company to cut corners.

The Asian-owned company had sent an email to an employee of the defendant. In it, the company said, "[W]e don't have confidence on this welding," and could not vouch for the safety of the faulty bearing.

Witnesses testified that the company owner got a second metal ring from the Chinese company for another crane only six weeks prior to the fatal construction accident, but it never was installed. Other engineers testified that it was not safe to use and the first crane should have been taken out of service due to the bearing.

The road to justice for the senseless death of a loved one can be long and rocky. However, pursuing a civil claim can often bring needed closure to the grieving families.

Source: The New York Times, "Families of 2008 Crane Collapse Victims Are Awarded $48 Million," James C. McKinley, Jr. and Liam Stack, July 30, 2015

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