Following the longest trial in Manhattan Supreme Court history, a jury has added an additional $48 million – a record in New York – in punitive damages to the families of construction workers Donald Christopher Leo and Ramadan Kurtaj.
Leo and Kurtaj were killed when a crane collapsed at a construction site near 91st Street and 1st Avenue on May 30, 2008. The defendant in the case was construction mogul and self-professed “King of Cranes,” James Lomma.
In this case, each sides accused the other of negligence:
- Lawyers for Kurtaj and Leo accused Lomma of purchasing a key component to the crane from an unqualified vendor in China. They argued that substandard welding, about which Lomma knew, was to blame for the attack.
- Lawyers for James Lomma alleged that Leo, as crane operator, loaded too heavy a weight on the crane, causing a cable to snap and bring down the entire structure.
What is notable about this verdict is not only the record award, but the hard work and tenacity of the attorneys for the families throughout the 7-month trial, which did not commence until 7 years after the incident and an arduous mistrial. In fact, at the conclusion of the trial there was only one alternate juror remaining.
Punitive damages do more than compensate families for lost wages; they send a message that reckless and negligent behavior will not be tolerated – whether it is a construction crane fixed on the cheap, a dangerous drunk driver with no regard for others, or a landlord who refuses to perform the civic duty of snow removal from the sidewalk in front of his property.
Personal injury attorneys hold negligent parties to the letter of the law, even when criminal juries do not. James Lomma was found not guilty by a jury in criminal court, but as the verdict shows, criminal court does not have to be your last resort.