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Victims of Hard Rock Collapse File Suits

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

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As a result of the partial collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans, multiple lawsuits have been filed in civil court against the project’s construction leaders and other involved parties.

Although the lawsuits vary, the allegations have included project negligence, delays, design changes, “shortcuts” and failure to provide a safe work environment as just a few of the reasons believed to be the culprits behind the incident, resulting in three fatalities and over 30 injuries.

What Happened

Around 9 a.m. on Oct. 12, part of the Hard Rock Hotel building gave way, resulting in the collapse of the structure’s upper floors on the corner of Canal and North Rampart streets.

In the safety efforts that followed, 10 surrounding buildings were evacuated as electricity and gas to the buildings and condominiums were turned off, while damage to the roof of the neighboring historic Saenger Theater caused the cancellation of many scheduled performances.

According to New Orleans Fire Chief Tim McConnell, a crane weighing several tons that was attached to the Hard Rock was also damaged and unstable. Other officials added that it appeared initial damages were caused by the collapse of floors six through eight, which resulted in additional damage spread throughout a large portion of the building.

Due to these various factors and hazardous conditions, search teams were only able to recover one of the bodies of the deceased.

Metairie, Louisiana-based Citadel Builders has been identified as the general contractor on the Hard Rock construction project, which was slated to be an 18-story, 350-room hotel near the city’s French Quarter. The hotel was expected to open in 2020.

Although the collapse will undergo an investigation, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell told ABC News at the time that all preliminary information on the structure showed that all proper permits had been obtained and that everything was up to code.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also slated to help in future investigative efforts once rescue efforts have been completed and have reportedly acquired all documents such as papers, maps, blueprints and computers from the Hard Rock Hotel site.

Additionally, Gov. John Bel Edwards had declared a state of emergency in Orleans Parish for fear of the upcoming tropical weather, which posed an urgent threat to the city of New Orleans. The declaration allowed the state of Louisiana to provide additional necessary assistance to the city.

Eight days following the hotel’s partial collapse, an evacuation order was put into effect as two cranes were imploded on the construction site. A decision that made the overall site safer than its collapse on Oct. 12, according to reports.

As a result of the controlled demolition, one crane was reported to have impaled and damaged a sewer line on Rampart Street—which was expected, according to the city—and broke three windows at the Saenger Theater and others at the historic Roosevelt Hotel.

Cantrell added that engineers are continuing to inspect the building now, while members of the National Guard are expected to begin searches for the two bodies remaining inside the Hard Rock Hotel prior to the implosion. However, more debris will have to be removed before these efforts can commence.

Officials report that the debris removal, search efforts and the presence of police, firefighters and other city workers are costing the city roughly $400,000 a day. Cantrell adds, however, that these costs will be recouped once the “responsible party” for the disaster is found.

In addition to officials redoubling their efforts to recover the two bodies remaining inside the structure, the city is also working with the property owner in continuing to secure the site and begin a full demolition process after the deceased are removed.

Lawsuits

According to reports, at least 12 lawsuits have been filed for damages against Citadel Builders and other defendants including: 1031 Canal Development LLC, developer Kailas Companies, Harry Baker Smith Architects, Heaslip Engineering and All Star Electric.

Of the lawsuits filed, the collection of allegations points to possible causes and potential contributions of the collapse, including negligence, design failure, inadequate structural supports, incorrect pile load tests, inaccurate concrete cure times and the use of unskilled workers.

One family of a man who was killed in the incident has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the project’s developers, claiming that they failed to provide a safe work environment. The family is also suing for its own mental suffering.

Four businesses located around the site of the collapse—and are a part of the New Orleans Athletic Club—have also filed a class-action lawsuit against the developers and contractors involved with the Hard Rock Hotel project. In their lawsuit, the businesses claim that the collapse caused "catastrophic damage" to people within the buildings and nearby and have since forced the businesses to close or limit regular business operations.

Allegations received from all parties are reported to mimic complaints made by several construction workers prior to the hotel’s collapse.

"It's going to be a lot like the FIU (Florida International University) bridge collapse where everybody involved gets targeted in a lawsuit," said attorney Jason Kellogg, partner at the law firm of Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider + Grossman in Miami.

"Eventually, an expert will work out what happened, and the parties at fault will be identified, and liability will be apportioned."

Until then, attorneys working for plaintiffs of the Hard Rock will be using defendants’ insurance companies to recover the existing damages. After an insurance company has fulfilled its entire policy limit, then attorneys plan to seek damages from the companies themselves.

What Happens Next

Although it is not certain what caused the structure to partially fail, reported video footage reveals concerns about the structure’s shoring ability to support the weight from the concrete slabs, as shore posts appeared to be bent while supporting a concrete tier on an unfinished upper floor.

Narrated in Spanish, the video also recorded the contractor’s voiced concerns about the dangerous spacing between supports.

Jim Maddux—a former Chief of Construction Safety for OSHA who retired in 2015—said the video and other images he’s been shown from the collapse suggest that the temporary supports should be a prime suspect in the project’s failure.

Reports also note that builders removed temporary support posts just three days after pouring concrete, despite industry standards advising a minimum set time of two weeks.

A federal investigation into the incident has been launched; however, reports indicate it could take months to produce a preliminary report. Inspectors have not been able to determine a cause at this time.

“Our highest priority is the care and concern for the families involved," 1031 Canal said in a statement. "While there are many questions that are unanswerable at this juncture, our prayers and sympathies are with the good men and women who have been affected.

“We are hopeful that the thoughts and prayers throughout the community will help us as we continue to work with local authorities and the General Contractor to identify the causes of the incident.”

Currently, officials are working to determine the best way to continue the demolition of the damaged crane and the rest of the existing structure as well. Continued efforts are also being taken to remove the two remaining deceased individuals from the collapsed site.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Construction; Cranes; Demolition; Engineers; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Hotels; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Safety

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