Criminal Charges Against Individuals and Corporations Shed Light on Cause of 2008 Crane Collapse in Manhattan

On March 8, 2010, two individuals and two corporations were indicted on criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter and other charges related to the May 30, 2008, crane collapse in New York City that killed two people and seriously injured a third. The indictment describes the callous indifference to safety by the defendants who decided, in an effort to lessen the downtime of and lost rental income from a broken crane, to use a cheaper and quicker means of repair from a Chinese company whose qualifications had not been verified.

The collapse of the crane was caused by the failure of a structural weld in the crane’s turntable, a mechanism that enables the upper portions of the crane to swivel. The weld failure caused the crane’s cab, boom, and other upper sections to break off and fall to the sidewalk and street from an elevation of approximately 200 feet. Since the crane collapse, much has been reported in the media regarding the investigation into that collapse as well as the one in March of 2008 being conducted by the New York City Department of Investigation and the United States Department of Labor, including the Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Many civil lawsuits have been instituted to recover for personal injuries and wrongful death. According to the indictment, the crack in the crane’s turntable was discovered in May of 2007. Estimates received from two reputable turntable manufacturers called for replacements costing between $34,000 and $120,000 and taking a period of seven months to two years, respectively, to deliver. But a Chinese bearing manufacturer, RTR Bearing, offered to fabricate a replacement bearing in China for approximately $20,000, with an estimated delivery time of three months. The shorter time was crucial because the company lost approximately $50,000 a month in rental fees.

The defendants relied on RTRs unverified representations on their website and hired them to do the job without conducting due diligence on this unknown company. The defendants installed the replacement turntable on the East 91st Street tower crane in April 2008. The defendants also received a second turntable from RTR, with an obviously-deficient weld. Despite learning of the defect in the identical part, the defendants took no further action to ensure the integrity of the welding on the turntable that had already been installed on the crane at East 91st Street, alleges the indictment.

On the morning of May 30, 2008, the weld made by RTR in the turntable on the Kodiak tower crane at 333 East 91st Street failed, causing the upper portions of the crane to break off and fall to the ground. The indictment alleges that the defendants violated City regulations and industry standards when they failed to employ an engineer to oversee the repairs, failed to hire a certified welding company to perform the work, and provided RTR with grossly inadequate welding specifications that were contrary to the specifications of the original bearing manufacturer. Additionally, the defendants did not seek prior approval from DOB before ordering the replacement part from RTR, contrary to a previous directive from DOB, thus preventing DOB from reviewing the means and methodology of repair.

The defendants also violated provisions of the New York City Building Code requiring that the repaired and replaced turntable be as safe as the original and be made in accordance with the specifications of the original manufacturer. Following the two 2008 crane collapses, the New York City Buildings Department made a series of changes in the way high-risk construction will be regulated and carried out in New York City. (March 15, 2008, collapse forced 300 apartments to be evacuated, one of whom was Jane Jarvis, who played the organ for the New York Mets at Shea Stadium from 1964 through 1979.

Charged were James Lomma, Tibor Varganyi, New York Crane and Equipment Corp. and J.F. Lomma, Inc. each face multiple counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, as well as charges of assault, and reckless endangerment. Lomma is the owner of both New York Crane and J.F. Lomma, Inc. Varganyi is a former mechanic for New York Crane.

The charges are manslaughter in the second degree, two counts, Class V felony, assault in the second degree, two counts, class D violent felony, criminally negligent homicide, two counts, class E felony, and reckless endangerment in the second degree, class A misdemeanor. A class C felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison; a class D violent felony is punishable by up to 7 years in prison; a class E felony is punishable by up to 4 years in prison; a class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims, including for workers injured at construction sites. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. Contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and surrounding areas. To learn more, watch our videos.

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