It’s been two-and-a-half months since the tragic accident that killed one and severely injured five after a crane crashed into an East Dallas apartment complex during a severe storm.
This week, the owners of the crane and apartment complex — Bigge Crane and Rigging and Greystar — faced more legal troubles as 35 more displaced residents filed suit.
The lawsuit, filed Monday by Dallas lawyers Jason Friedman and Larry Friedman, landed in Dallas County Court at Law No. 2 as an intervening petition to an existing lawsuit filed by a different group of residents.
While it’s technically the third lawsuit to crop up after the tragedy, it serves as a replacement for a June 11 petition the Friedmans filed in Dallas District Judge Craig Smith’s court on behalf of the first resident to take legal action, 27-year old UFC fighter Macy Chiasson.
Jason Friedman said he voluntarily dismissed Ms. Chiasson’s lawsuit in Judge Smith’s court on Friday and filed this new lawsuit in its place because “it’s just more efficient for everyone involved.”
Monday’s lawsuit alleges Bigge, Greystar and other defendants “posed an unreasonable risk of harm” to those operating the crane and residents in the surrounding area because the crane was not properly installed or maintained “to hold up during natural weather conditions.”
The crane, which Greystar leased from Bigge, collapsed June 9 during a storm that hit the Dallas area that brought winds up to 70 mph. The crane was parked in between the Elan City Lights apartments and The Gabriella, a new complex also owned by Greystar that is currently under construction. The accident left more than 500 Elan residents displaced from their homes and without their belongings.
“What moved me to take on this case was seeing all these people in disarray, their lives disrupted,” Friedman told The Texas Lawbook. “Part of being a lawyer is having the ability to help people in ways that other people can’t.”
Friedman said his 35 new clients constitute people of all ages and “different walks of life, different jobs and different backgrounds.” Beyond property damage, the lawsuit says the plaintiffs have incurred medical expenses from injuries, suffered physical pain, lost earning capacity, endured physical impairment and suffered from mental anguish.
“Some of them are people who worked from home, some of them had just started new jobs and lost their jobs because they were so new and had to miss so much work. Each person has a little different situation.”
Friedman said he wants Greystar and Bigge to “do the right thing.”
“Their equipment failed, and it was their responsibility and we just want them to own up to it,” he said.
He said the accident went well beyond making the residents “get out and live in a hotel for a week.”
“[The accident] really disrupted these people’s lives and they want to be able to move on,” he said. “The consequences of what happened are financially significant for them.”
Friedman said he was unsure of the status of any legal action being brought on behalf of Kiersten Smith, the 29-year-old bride-to-be who died in the crane accident.
Bigge, which is based in California, is being represented by Houston lawyer Darrell Barger of Hartline Barger. The company originally had assigned its longtime lawyer Larry Bowman of Kane Russell Coleman & Logan as lead, but Bowman withdrew from the case Aug. 1 due to the insurer’s preference of counsel, he told The Lawbook Wednesday afternoon.
Bowman called the case a “tragic situation.”
Greg Dillard, the managing partner of Katten Muchen Rosenman’s Houston office, is representing Bigge in an ongoing investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency looking into the crane collapse. Dillard told The Lawbook that he has represented Bigge previously.
Dallas attorney Jana Taylor of Sheehy Ware Pappas, who is representing Greystar and Housley Communications, another defendant in the case, has not responded to requests for comment. Housley, a San Angelo-based engineering firm involved with the Gabriella apartment construction, declined to comment on pending litigation and referred The Lawbook to Taylor.
The lawyers representing the six other plaintiffs who filed the second lawsuit in County Court at Law are Jason Itkin, Cory Itkin, Ryan MacLeod and Jacob Karam of Arnold & Itkin in Houston.
Multiple previous attempts to set up an interview with MacLeod, the lead lawyer on their case, were unsuccessful.
OSHA officials have six months from the date of the incident to complete their investigation to determine whether any safety violations occurred.
OSHA gave Greystar clearance on July 25 to remove the crane off the premises once it determines it is safe to do so. It began the removal process Wednesday afternoon. Dillard said the process is expected to span over “a matter of weeks,” but could face potential delays.
As pieces of the crane get gradually removed, he said, “they have to stop, reassess, and make sure the work can be done in an orderly manner, so it occasionally results in some temporary delays. All the parties are cooperating and all the contractors performing the work are expeditiously working to remove all the crane equipment.”
As the crane is being removed, Dillard said the pieces are being transferred to a “secure location already identified” to preserve as evidence in the litigation.
Although OSHA is the regulatory body that oversees workplace safety, Dillard said this situation was unique in that nobody was on sight during the time of the accident since it was a Sunday.
“OSHA’s conducting the inspection, but it’s not an incident where any Bigge employees were exposed to hazards on the day of the incident,” he said.