Family members of two of the four people killed in the April crane collapse site have filed wrongful death suits against companies involved in crane operations at the South Lake Union construction site.
Gusting winds knocked the crane over the afternoon of April 27, after workers prematurely removed pins holding 20-foot sections together, leading to a tragedy that state regulators called “totally avoidable.” Lawsuits have also been filed by two people who were injured, and Seattle police are continuing to conduct a criminal investigation.
Justad and Wong’s families filed suits in King County Superior Court in late December against Morrow Equipment, GLY Construction, Northwest Tower Crane Service, Omega Morgan and Seaburg Construction, the five companies responsible for operating and dismantling the crane. The lawsuits seek unspecified damages.
The families of the two ironworkers killed in the collapse, Andrew Yoder, 31, of North Bend, and Travis Corbet, 33, have attorneys and are also expected to file suit, according to Todd Gardner, an attorney for Wong’s parents. Yoder’s and Corbet’s families did not return request for comment.
Two other people, Sally Beaven and Ali Edriss, jointly sued the same five companies in December. Beaven and Edriss claimed they were injured as a result of the crane collapse.
Edriss, 28, was driving Wong and another SPU student in an Uber when the crane fell. He was treated at Harborview for back, neck and hip pain, a hematoma on his leg, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to attorneys. The other student managed to escape unharmed, according to an email SPU officials sent to students after the collapse.
Beaven, 62, was also driving when a piece of the crane struck the back of her car. She is still being treated for PTSD and memory loss, attorneys said.
The South Lake Union construction site, built for a new Google campus, was the largest construction project in the city at the time. The city hadn’t witnessed a deadly crane collapse in 13 years, even as Seattle became home to more tower cranes than anywhere in the country.
The state Department of Labor and Industries faulted and fined GLY, Northwest Tower Crane and Morrow last autumn for failing to adequately supervise the crane disassembly, train workers and follow manufacturer procedures.
Regulators came down hardest on Morrow, with a $70,000 fine for a “willful” serious violation, indicating it ignored a legal requirement or was indifferent to employee safety.
Northwest Tower Crane declined to comment. Morrow did not return request for comment.
GLY CEO Ted Herb said in a statement his company is welcomes “a thorough, fair and transparent review” of safety procedures as a result of the lawsuits. GLY was the general contractor on the jobsite.
“Crane dismantling is complicated work that must be performed and overseen by experts with specialized training and GLY hired the most qualified experts, with the best safety records, to perform and oversee this crane disassembly,” Herb said. “This accident was not caused by GLY, but as the jobsite supervisor, we have a responsibility to keep our employees, subcontractors and community safe.”
The state did not cite Omega Morgan or Seaburg Construction. Neither company returned request for comment.
The plaintiffs and their attorneys are suing all five companies, rather than just the three L&I held in violation of worker safety codes, because “every entity out there that could have stopped this should be held accountable for why they did not,” Gardner said.
Removing the pins, he said, was “a shortcut to save time. “
Video of the collapse, on a drizzling Saturday afternoon, shows the crane listing south, then crashing into the nearly-complete Google building below.
Justad, a beloved civil servant, was driving down Mercer St. at that moment.
“As the crane fell from the building onto the roadway, parts were separating and bouncing upon impact with the road and struck and landed on several vehicles,” the complaint filed by Justad’s children alleged, “causing him injuries that lead to his death.”
Wong had moved from California to attend Seattle Pacific University.
“Like others in her vehicle and like other nearby, she had no warning that the tower crane would collapse,” her parents’ complaint alleged. “She had no opportunity to avoid injury or death.”
The wrongful death suits will likely take years to wend their way through the courts. In the meantime, a criminal investigation opened by the Seattle Police Department into the collapse is continuing, said department spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.
An updated version of this article corrected the name of GLY’s CEO and the day of the week the collapse occurred.