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Huge Construction Crane Topples Onto Downtown Street

A six-story crane collapsed under the weight of a sudden snowstorm in downtown Manhattan, killing one bystander and seriously injuring three others.
When the 565-foot construction crane plummeted to the ground, “it felt like an earthquake,” according to NYPD Benevolence treasurer Paul Capotosto, whose building was nearby. Winds exceeded 25mph at the site in the moments just before the crash. 38-year-old David Wichs was killed instantly when the crane fell directly on top him and pinned him to the ground. Nearby, 73-year-old Thomas O’Brien sustained a serious head injury when the crane smashed through his Jeep’s sunroof; first responders had to cut him out of the vehicle as his daughter looked on. One of the firefighters was injured on the scene, as was 45-year-old Dawn Kojima.
A few hours prior to the incident, officials from the Buildings Department visited the site and approved the crane for use at full extension.
Landowner Liability in Construction Accidents
Under the traditional view, landowners have a very limited duty towards licensees, and bystanders probably qualify as such. But some courts are now moving away from the old category analysis, in part because it is difficult to distinguish a “licensee” from an “invitee” or even a trespasser. Instead, they embrace a reasonable care analysis that focuses on all the surrounding facts and circumstances.
According to this view, the landowner has an affirmative duty to make the premises safe for all visitors, regardless of the underlying reason for their presence. Arguably, an even higher duty applies in construction accident cases, because of the inherent danger in such activity.
Similarly, workers who are injured or killed in these incidents are also entitled to more protection. The scaffolding law requires owners and contractors to not only make safety harnesses, slings, stays, and other devices available to workers, but also instruct them in their use.
For over a hundred years, New York courts have held defendants strictly liable for construction-related personal injuries. Some of the defenses that are traditionally used to fight these claims, such as a recent government inspection or the victim’s contributory negligence, do not apply.
In both these instances, victims are entitled to compensation for both their economic and noneconomic damages.
New York City is abuzz with construction projects, and also construction injuries. For a free consultation with attorneys who stand up for victims, contact our office. Mr. Proner is president of the New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers.

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