The families of the three men who died last year after scaffolding collapsed in downtown Raleigh have filed suit against some construction companies involved in the accident, retaining the law firm of former U.S. Sen. and vice presidential candidate John Edwards to bring the action.
Workers on March 23 were dismantling a mast climber on the 11-story Charter Square building on Fayetteville Street when the exterior lift system collapsed.
Anderson Antones de Almeida and Jose Erasmo Hernandez of Durham, as well as Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez of Clinton, died in the accident. Almeida and Lopez-Ramirez were 33 when they died, while Hernandez was 41.
Almeida left behind a child, now 3 years old. Lopez-Ramirez is survived by a wife and three children ages 10, 5 and 3. Hernandez is survived by a wife and two children, one 7 and one 6 months old.
Attorneys with the firm Edwards Kirby, in which Edwards is joined by longtime associate David Kirby, claimed in a Superior Court case filed in Durham on Thursday that four companies involved with the construction contributed to the victims’ wrongful death.
“This is a tragedy that never should have occurred,” Edwards said in a statement.
Edwards, 62, built a reputation as having a powerful sway with juries during complicated civil cases before winning his single, six-year U.S. Senate term in 1998. He was Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s vice-presidential running mate in 2004 and ran for president in 2006.
Edwards returned to practicing law in late 2013 after a highly publicized political collapse that left him defending criminal allegations brought against him. He was acquitted in his 2012 trial of one of six campaign finance charges against him. Prosecutors dismissed the other five.
His firm now leads the families’ case against Associated Scaffolding Company Inc. of Durham, Choate Construction Company of Georgia, Klimer Platforms Ltd. of Delaware and Canada-based Klimer Platforms Inc. for their roles in the scaffolding accident.
“Very simple protocols for building, inspecting and operating this scaffolding were not followed, and the result is a heartbreak for these families,” his partner David Kirby said in the statement. The firm declined to offer additional comments.
Associated Scaffolding was among the three contractors the North Carolina Department of Labor fined in September for their roles in the accident. The department fined Associated Scaffolding $151,900 after finding that, among other violations, company workers didn’t follow manufacturer recommendations when tying the scaffolding to the building and put too much weight on the scaffolding while dismantling it.
The company is contesting the allegations. It’ll go before an Occupational Safety and Health appellate board in March at the earliest, according to Neal O’Briant, a spokesman for the department.
A spokeswoman for Associated Scaffolding offered a statement via telephone: “This was a very tragic accident and all of us at Associated Scaffolding Company have been and remain concerned about the families involved,” she said. “Associated Scaffolding is committed to safety and has had an excellent safety record for more than 68 years.”
Concord-based companies Janna Wall and Juba Aluminum Products also were fined $4,200 apiece by the department. Those companies aren’t named in the lawsuit, though, and Edwards Kirby declined to say why.
Choate Construction, the general contractor for the project, and the two Klimer companies were not fined by the labor department but are named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Choate was behind on the project and pushed Associated Scaffolding to dismantle the scaffold within a day, “a timetable that it knew or should have known was too rushed to be completed safely,” the lawsuit reads.
Mike Hampton, Choate’s chief operations officer, declined to comment on the lawsuit’s allegations because the company hasn’t been served yet, he said.
“All I know is that the North Carolina Department of Labor did an extensive accident investigation that went on for months,” Hampton said. “At the end of that, there were no citations issued (against Choate).”
The Klimer companies, meanwhile, “knew or should have known that its KlimerLite mast scaffold did not have sufficient load bearing excess weight capacity designed and built into the subject mast scaffold as required by the American National Standards Institute and industry custom and practice,” the lawsuit says.
Representatives for Klimer didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.