A New York jury awarded $24 million last month in punitive damages to the families of two men killed in a 2008 crane collapse. That verdict last month brings the total award against crane owner James F. Lomma and his companies to more than $96 million. After a trial that lasted for 10 months, the jury found that Lomma, his company New York Crane & Equipment Corp., and Lomma’s affiliated businesses had been wanton and reckless in repairing a crack on the crane at a construction site in Manhattan. The jury added $48 million in punitive damages to the approximately $17 million in compensatory damages it had already awarded to the family of the crane operator Donald C. Leo and about $32 million to the estate of Ramadan Kurtaj, a construction worker. Both of the men were killed when the crane collapsed.
Leo and Kurtaj were killed on May 30, 2008, when the crane being used to construct the Kodiak Tower on the city’s Upper East Side collapsed because of a faulty weld in a replacement bearing in the turntable. The jury heard evidence during the trial that Lomma commissioned the weld with a Chinese company that expressed doubts in an email as to its own ability to do the job. The Plaintiffs alleged Lomma chose the company for its low cost and the prospect of a fast turnaround. The repair was supposed to be approved by the city’s Department of Buildings, but it never was. Lomma used the company for another weld that was found to be faulty around a month before the accident, but he failed to act to ensure the safety of the first weld afterward.
The suit was the first over the collapse to go to trial. However, there are several more personal injury suits still pending. The companies previously settled, paying about $3 million in property damage claims. The crane fell on a luxury apartment building across the street. The families of the deceased workers initially sued other companies involved, including crane operator Sorbara Construction Corp., welding company Brady Marine Repair Co. Inc. and weld testing firm Branch Radiographic Laboratories. Claims against all but Sobora and Lomma and his companies were settled before or during trial. The jury found only Lomma and the businesses associated with him liable at trial. The crane operator was found not guilty by the jury.
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