NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — After a criminal acquittal and a once-derailed wrongful death trial, a construction crane owner on Thursday again faced a civil trial in a collapse that killed two workers and helped spur new safety rules.
Four months after his injuries in a car wreck forced a mistrial, owner James Lomma and the workers’ relatives sat in a Manhattan courtroom as opening statements began anew in the wrongful death case.
It’s the latest attempt from the families and prosecutors to hold Lomma responsible for the May 2008 collapse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Top portions of a 200-foot-tall crane snapped off and tumbled to the ground, killing crane operator Donald C. Leo and Ramadan Kurtaj, a sewer worker who was on the ground.
“You’re going to know exactly who’s responsible” for the deaths, Leo family lawyer Bernadette Panzella told jurors Thursday.
The workers’ relatives have sued various companies and agencies but largely blame Lomma, saying he sought to save money by getting a slapdash repair to a vital crane part that later failed and caused the collapse. The defense hasn’t yet started its opening statements, but Lomma’s lawyers have said other people were at fault for the collapse.
Lomma was acquitted of manslaughter and other criminal charges in 2012. Mechanic Tibor Varganyi, who had arranged the crane repair, pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide. Varganyi was sentenced to a year of community service.
Lomma’s civil trial initially started in May, but a judge halted it after Lomma suffered multiple fractures in a car crash that his lawyers took days to disclose. They said the wreck had happened during jury selection, but the extent of his injuries wasn’t clear until later, when opening statements were underway.
Lomma wasn’t required to be at the civil trial. But his lawyer argued that Lomma’s absence would harm his defense, and the judge said he felt he had no choice but to stop it.
A new jury was chosen this month.
The collapse came two months after another crane fell apart in midtown and killed seven people. Together, the accidents stirred concern about crane safety and led to a roster of new regulations.
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