Thursday, April 26, 2012

Crane firm cleared in fatal collapse case

James Lomma and two of his companies were acquitted of manslaughter and other charges. One of their construction cranes broke and killed two people in 2008.

By Amanda Fung

The owner of a construction crane company was cleared of all charges related to a 2008 fatal crane collapse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Daniel Conviser acquitted James Lomma and his two firms, New York Crane and Equipment Corp. and JF Lomma Inc., of manslaughter and other charges Thursday. The crane collapse at East 91st Street and First Avenue led to the death of two construction workers on the site.

Prosecutors had argued that the crane fell because Mr. Lomma hired a cheap and unknown Chinese company to repair the crane at the site. Mr. Lomma's attorneys said Mr. Lomma and his firm responsibly repaired the crane and therefore did not cause what they called the tragic accident. If Mr. Lomma had been found guilty in the non-jury trial, he would've faced five to 15 years in prison.

“Any time there is a crane accident and people are killed, it is a tragedy, but the district attorney spent 10 weeks trying to say that Jimmy Lomma was criminally responsible for what happened, and the proof showed that to be wrong,” said Paul Shechtman, a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder who represented Mr. Lomma and his companies in the case. “I am very happy that Mr. Lomma has been vindicated.”

Prosecutors said that Mr. Lomma did not follow city inspectors' requirements for the repairs.

“Although we are disappointed with the judge's verdict, each case we have brought in this area has put increased scrutiny on the construction industry as a whole, and has had a cascading effect on safety practices,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., in a statement. “Construction companies must do everything in their power to protect the safety of workers and the thousands of New Yorkers who live near or walk by a construction site every day.”

This fatal crane accident was the second to occur in 2008. In the first case, prosecutors charged a crane rigger with manslaughter. In that case, the rigger was also acquitted two years ago. With the latest decision, observers note that a guilty verdict in these cases would have been difficult.

“It should be hard to indict criminal negligence,” said Mr. Shechtman. “It is meant to be a high standard and carries jail sentences, something would be wrong if it was an easy charge to prove.”


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