On June 12, 2009, Ulvaldo Soto Martinez, a 33-year-old rod buster, was working on a construction project to widen the Huey P. Long Bridge in Bridge City, Louisiana. He and two co-workers, Sammy Vasquez and Martin Reyes, were working on top of a 50-foot concrete column to secure a rebar cage to the column. After a crane lowered the cage into position, the three workers tied the rebar of the cage to the rebar of the column, while workers on the ground secured guy wires to concrete blocks to prevent the cage from being tipped by the wind.
After completing the tie-in, the three workers sat down to wait for further instructions. Eventually, they were told to climb up the rebar cage to release the crane. The three men climbed up the cage, but upon reaching the top were instructed that it was only a two-man job. Vasquez climbed down from the cage. Just after Vasquez reached the ground, the cage suddenly collapsed, causing the other two workers to fall to their deaths.
Soto Martinez’s wife brought suit individually and on behalf of her husband’s estate for wrongful death and negligence. Prior to trial Defendants, Louisiana Timed Managers, the project manager, resident engineer and project inspector, settled for an undisclosed amount and the state of Louisiana settled for $87,500. The case proceeded to trial against KNTC JV, the project general contractor, Kiewit Engineering Co., the drafter of the engineering plan and Modjeski and Masters Inc., the company responsible for reviewing and approving the engineering plans.
Plaintiff claimed that bilateral buckling, induced by the weight of the cage, caused it to collapse upon itself. According to Plaintiff’s engineering experts, a buckling analysis should have been preformed to ensure that the minimum stiffness provided by the rebar joints was sufficient to support the weight of the cage. The guy-wire plans Defendants submitted and approved addressed only concerns about wind resistance, rather than overall support of the rebar structure.
Each of the defendants attempted to place the blame on the others. Counsel for Modjeski and Masters claimed that the accident was caused by the means and methods of construction selected by general contractor, KNTC. Counsel for Kiewit claimed that it was hired only to address concerns over high winds and that as general contractor, KNTC should have conducted a buckling analysis or hired an engineering firm specifically for that purpose. Counsel for KMTC argued that it was immune from liability under Louisiana State law because it was the statutory employer of the Plaintiff and his co-workers, the employees of its sub-contractor.
Despite the various defense arguments, the jury held defendants liable, apportioning fault 80% to KNTC, 10% to Modjeski and Masters and 10% to Kiewit. The jury awarded the Decedent’s estate $1 million, his wife $5 million, his two children $3 million each and his brother $1 million, for a total award of $13 million.
COURT: 19th Judicial District Court, Louisiana
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