hands behind bar

Should Construction Accidents Carry Criminal Charges?

In April 2015, 22-year-old Carlos Moncayo was killed in a horrific construction accident in New York City. At the time of the accident, Moncayo was working for Sky Materials out of Long Island. Sky Materials was acting as a hands behind barsubcontractor for general contractor Harco Construction when a tunnel Moncayo was working in collapsed and buried him alive.

In June 2016, Harco Construction was found guilty of manslaughter in what appears to be a new trend of these
types of situations. In June 2016, J and M Corporation owner Salvatore Schirripa was indicted on manslaughter charges when a grand jury determined that his company negligently ignored repeated safety violations. Ignoring those violations eventually led to the death of 50-year-old worker Vidal Sanchez Ramon, according to the grand jury.

Do Safety Violations Lead To Criminal Charges?

It is important to note that these types of criminal trials are not commonplace in the wake of construction accidents. Harco Construction had repeatedly violated safety violations, and there was even an inspector on-site just prior to the accident, who was trying to stop the job. In the case of J and M Corporation, there is a very long history of ignored safety violations that eventually led to a worker’s death.

However, is being responsible for worker deaths justification for a murder conviction? The Harco case is a bit confusing because the grand jury indicted two companies (Harco and Sky) and two individuals (site supervisors from each company) for the death of Moncayo. Who is going to jail for the Harco conviction? The case has gone to appeal, so that answer may have to wait.

Charges Send A Strong Message

A spokesman for Building NYC, Brad Gertsman has stated that this conviction occurred despite there being laws on the books that prevent this sort of conviction. He also warns that allowing municipalities to convict general contractors in every worker death could set a precedent that would shake the entire industry.

Up to this point, the only recourse government agencies have in trying to prevent worker deaths on construction sites is to enforce safety regulations. Agencies give out fines and shut down job sites, but it is rare that criminal charges are ever filed. It may be that cities such as New York have determined that severe safety violators need a stronger message, and a murder conviction sends a very strong message.

Determining Responsibility

When safety violations are handed out, they are handed out to subcontractors and general contractors. It is the responsibility of a general contractor to monitor the activities of its subcontractors and to react to any safety violations. The Moncayo case involves repeated and dangerous safety violations that were ignored by the subcontractor and general contractor. That is why both contractors have been indicted for the death of Moncayo.

Is the general contractor responsible for its subcontractor to the point of being criminally negligent? In the opinion of one New York City court, the answer to that question is yes. General contractor Harco plans to appeal on the Law gavelgrounds that it is not directly responsible for every action taken by its subcontractors, but some in the construction industry do not think that Harco has any room to plead ignorance.

Conviction Of The Current Cases

The J and M Corporation case has just been through the grand jury phase and now heads to trial. Sky Materials and the individual site supervisors from the Moncayo case will go on trial next. It is likely that all three entities will appeal their cases if they are convicted, just as Harco has done. But with one conviction already given in a death that resulted from a construction accident, it could be that the precedent is already set.

The indictments and conviction in these two construction death cases are likely going to send shock waves through the construction industry. General contractors may now be forced to invest extra resources in safety, and treat safety violations with a greater sense of urgency. Both of these cases involved companies with very poor safety records. But if the Harco conviction is allowed to stand, then every general contractor working in New York City and elsewhere will have to be extra vigilant when it comes to worker safety.

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