In 2018, we wrote about the death of Luis Almonte Sanchez. The 47-year-old was doing foundation work at the construction site in Sunset Park when a 20-foot retaining wall collapsed, burying him under 15,000-45,000 pounds of brick and debris. Authorities couldn’t recover his body until the next day due to the unsafe conditions.
More than a year later, the Brooklyn District Attorney announced an indictment charging three individuals responsible for safety compliance at the construction site. According to the indictment, they ignored warnings about dangerous conditions in the days before the fatal wall collapse.
Foreperson, company operator, engineer accused of ignoring warnings
Excavation company operator Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu, foreperson Wilson Garcia, Jr., and engineer Paul Bailey face charges of manslaughter, reckless endangerment and other offenses for their alleged roles in the fatal incident.
According to the indictment, the defendants were in a position of authority and had a responsibility to ensure the construction site followed all relevant laws, including for worker safety. Yet not only was the site not compliant, the defendants allegedly ignored design plans – leading to hazardous conditions ahead of the wall collapse, including:
- Excavation that was too deep
- An underpinning system that was not properly installed
- Bracing that didn’t follow safety procedures
According to the charges, workers told Liu and Garcia the rear wall had been moving forward and suggested bracing it with another beam. In addition, a neighbor adjacent to the rear wall allegedly told them her patio and garage had caved in. Much of this took place during a rainy stretch, and trucks continued hauling dirt from the site every day.
Liu and Garcia ignored these warnings and directed workers to continue the job, according to the indictment, while refusing to add additional bracing or halting work to address the safety concerns. Bailey, an engineer, allegedly acted as Special Inspector on the site and was responsible for overseeing the work and ensuring worker safety. The defendants’ failure to ensure a safe working environment “directly led” to the death of Sanchez, the district attorney said in a statement.
Why would any supervisor allow workers to be subjected to the risk of injury or death? Usually, the answer is the same – money. The simple truth is that it costs more to work safely and contractors who are trying to complete their work faster and cheaper may try to cut corners to reduce expenses. Unfortunately, the results are too often catastrophic.
Criminal charges are one path for holding responsible parties accountable. The family and loved ones of construction workers killed or injured due to another individual’s negligence may also consider filing a lawsuit, such as a third-party injury or wrongful death claim. Nothing will undo what happened, but it may help those looking for a sense of closure and justice.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one because of dangerous conditions on a work site, it is important to remember that the parties who are responsible are often backed by businesses with significant financial and legal resources. It is important to speak with an attorney experienced in construction accidents.