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Daisy Zavala, Seattle Times | March 14, 2022
A King County jury awarded over $150 million to the families of two people who died and to the three people injured after a crane collapsed in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood in April 2019.
Gusting winds knocked the crane over after workers prematurely removed pins holding 20-foot sections together, leading to a tragedy that state regulators called “totally avoidable.” The collapse killed two ironworkers working on the crane, as well as Alan Justad, 71, a former city planning official, and Sarah Wong, a 19-year-old Seattle Pacific University student.
The families of Wong and Justad filed wrongful-death suits against the companies involved in crane operations at the Google building project on Mercer Street.
The jury’s verdict on Monday concerned the cases brought by the families of Wong and Justad, as well as three others who were injured or had their vehicles struck by the crane or debris — including Wong’s friend Brittany Cadelena, who was with her in an Uber car on the way to a shopping mall, and the Uber driver, Ali Edriss.
The jury said three companies — Omega Morgan, Northwest Tower Crane Service and Morrow Equipment Co. — had caused $150 million in damages. However, Morrow — assigned 25% of the blame by the jury — was not involved in the trial and does not have to pay as a result of the verdict; lawyers for the victims said separate claims are being pursued against that company.
Northwest Tower Crane, which supplied the crew of ironworkers, and Omega Morgan, which supplied a large mobile crane used to disassemble the tower crane, were held responsible for 75% of the damages. The companies did not immediately respond to messages sent by The Associated Press after business hours Monday.
“It is a broken industry and it has been cutting corners for years,” said Todd Gardner, an attorney representing Wong’s family. “If you’re taking apart a 300-foot structure in the middle of a busy city area, you can’t cut corners.”
The verdict comes after a six-week Superior Court trial, in which Omega refused to accept responsibility, forcing the case to go to trial, according to David Beninger and Patricia Anderson of the Luvera Law Firm, which represented Justad’s family.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs credited Northwest Tower Crane and Morrow for acknowledging some responsibility and changing practices in response to the collapse and criticized Omega Morgan for consistently denying any blame.
“It’s simple. When your work affects the public, your job is to protect the public,” Beninger said in a news release.
Of the $150 million, about $72 million was awarded to Wong’s family and about $52 million was awarded to Justad‘s family. The rest of the money will be split among three people injured in the incident, Gardner said.
The April 27, 2019, collapse also killed ironworkers Andrew Yoder, 31, and Travis Corbet, 33. Their families have filed a separate lawsuit, which is set for trial in late May.
Edriss, 28, the Uber driver, was driving Wong and Cadelena when the crane fell. He was treated at Harborview Medical Center for back, neck and hip pain, a hematoma on his leg, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to attorneys. Cadelena managed to escape unharmed, according to an email SPU officials sent to students after the collapse.
Sally Beaven, 62, was driving by the construction site when a piece of the crane struck the back of her car. She is still being treated for PTSD and memory loss, attorneys said.
The South Lake Union construction site, which became a Google campus, was the largest construction project in the city at the time. The county hadn’t witnessed a deadly crane collapse in 13 years, even as Seattle became home to more tower cranes than anywhere in the country.
Operations should’ve shut down when winds reached 11 mph given the type of crane they were working with, Gardner said during a Monday news briefing. Wind gusts that day reached 25 mph and neither company followed their own internal rules, Gardner said.
Video of the collapse, on a drizzling Saturday afternoon, shows the crane listing south, then crashing into the nearly complete Google building below.
Justad, was driving down Mercer Street at that moment.
“As the crane fell from the building onto the roadway, parts were separating and bouncing upon impact with the road and struck and landed on several vehicles,” the complaint filed by Justad’s children alleged, “causing him injuries that lead to his death.”
Wong had moved from California to attend Seattle Pacific University.
“Like others in her vehicle and like others nearby, she had no warning that the tower crane would collapse,” her parents’ complaint alleged. “She had no opportunity to avoid injury or death.”