A construction crane owner who was acquitted of manslaughter in a collapse that killed two workers is now facing a civil wrongful death trial over the accident, which helped spur new safety measures.
The slain workers’ families are suing crane owner James Lomma, his company and others involved in a Manhattan high-rise construction site where a crane snapped apart in May 2008. In opening statements Friday, lawyers for the families lambasted Lomma, whose 2012 acquittal they saw as a blow.
“Cranes are not supposed to fall from the sky,” said Bernadette Panzella, who represents crane operator Donald C. Leo’s family. “James F. Lomma didn’t do what he was supposed to do.”
Defense openings are due Tuesday. Lomma’s lawyers have indicated they may suggest that Leo’s handling of the crane contributed to the collapse, echoing his defense at his criminal trial.
The families’ lawyers say that Lomma allowed a shoddy repair to a critical crane part and that the fix failed and sparked the collapse. Top portions of the 200-foot-tall rig snapped off and plummeted to the ground, killing Leo, 30, and crushing to death sewer company worker Ramadan Kurtaj, 27.
Prosecutors made — and jurors rejected — a similar argument at Lomma’s 2012 criminal trial. There, Lomma’s lawyers argued that Leo made mistakes that destabilized the crane, a theory his family called offensive.