Lever & Ecker, PLLC March 4, 2016 Construction Accidents
Five arrests were made almost one year after a deadly explosion killed two people in East Village. Maria Hrynenko, Michael Bronx, Dilber Kukic, and Jerry Ioannidis were charged by police with negligent homicide, second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment. Both Ioannidis and a fifth defendant, Andrew Trombettas, were charged with offering a false instrument for filing – which means Trombettas essentially loaned his license, so that the work which ultimately caused the explosion would be approved.
The explosion occurred on March 26th, 2015, inside 121 2nd Ave. The force of the eruption resulted in the partial collapse of the building as well as the building next door. A fire quickly spread through the block which was so large that nearly 250 firefighters responded to the blaze.
Two people were killed in the blast, Nicholas Figueroa and Moises Locon Yac. Another 22 were injured as they ran to escape falling debris, fire, and smoke.
An investigation into the accident revealed that the explosion was caused by an illegal gas delivery system.
The landlord, Hrynenko, had hired Kukic for renovations to the building. If the work had been done properly, certain apartments would have been vacated during the construction – apartments that were renting out for around $6,000 a month. Instead, court documents state that Kukic agreed to rig up an illegal gas line system.
At one point, inspectors even discovered the system and shut the gas to the building off, ordering the line to be fixed. According to the claim brought against them, Kukic and Ioannidis simply moved the system to a closet in the basement of the building next door and rerouted the gas supply, with Hrynenko’s permission. They even instructed the tenants to lie to the inspectors and tell them the gas had never been turned back on.
Just prior to the blast, inspectors returned to check the system. When they left, the defendants turned the gas back on, not realizing that a leak occurred. Soon after, a restaurant in the building reported that gas could be smelled. According to prosecutors, Kukic and Bronx can be seen on a surveillance camera entering the basement to investigate the complaint, then running out of the building – without warning anyone else to evacuate.
Although each of the defendants has declared that they are not guilty, a judge and jury may find otherwise. However, even if they are found guilty on all charges, it is unlikely that the injured victims and the loved ones of those who were killed will be provided with compensation for their losses through the criminal case.
In order to obtain compensation, the victims must pursue a civil lawsuit, which they can file individually. In civil lawsuits, the plaintiff files a complaint which alleges that the defendant or defendants somehow caused them harm that resulted in a loss. In personal injury cases, that loss is typically a physical injury. The families of those who were killed may pursue a wrongful death claim.
Plaintiffs must show that negligence occurred. In order to do this, it must be showed that:
In civil lawsuits, the law must recognize that there was a relationship between the two parties and that a duty was owed to the plaintiff. For example, whenever someone is in charge of a construction site, they owe it to employees and anyone else in the area to make decisions which will keep others from being harmed.
A breach of duty occurs when the defendant fails to act in a way that a normal person would consider reasonable and does not fulfill the duty owed to the plaintiff.
The plaintiff must show proof that the decisions made by the defendant resulted in the loss suffered by the plaintiff.
In order for negligence to occur, the defendant is only responsible for the injuries or harm that they could have foreseen. To give another example, in a construction accident, it is reasonable that a contractor would understand that by setting up an unapproved gas line, they may cause an accident which could hurt others.
The plaintiff must show that the injury they suffered caused them a loss. This loss may be physical or financial in nature. If there has been no loss, there can be no compensation.
It is likely that the victims of the explosion will be able to obtain compensation for one or more of their losses. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance stated that “The seven-alarm fire that killed two people and engulfed three buildings in March 2015 was caused by a foreseeable, preventable, and completely avoidable gas explosion.”
There are a number of losses that can be recovered in civil lawsuits. They include:
If the injuries suffered by the plaintiff caused them to stay home from work, they may be able to obtain compensation for any wages they would have earned during this period of time. This may also include vacation days and sick days they were forced to take and lost opportunities, such as bonus pay or overtime that was expected.
Any expenses relating to the treatment of the injuries sustained by the plaintiff can be claimed in a civil lawsuit. Victims should not have to suffer financial losses from medical expenses for an injury they did not cause.
If a victim is scarred, disfigured, or is injured in such a way that they experience pain for a prolonged period of time, they may be able to recover compensation for the physical pain and suffering that has been suffered.
In some cases, the Court may award compensation for emotional distress that the plaintiff experienced due to the defendant’s negligence.
The families of the two men killed in the explosion have slightly different damages that can be claimed. These include:
The money that the deceased would have provided to their loved ones over the course of their lifetime may be claimed.
The monetary value of the services that the deceased provided their loved ones with may also be claimed.
If the deceased had children, it may be possible to obtain compensation for any expected inheritance that could have been provided if the deceased had lived.
If the deceased was seriously injured but did not pass away immediately, compensation for the physical and mental pain and suffering they experienced before their death may be obtained.
Any expenses for the funeral and burial of the deceased may be recovered in a wrongful death claim.
In February of 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that penalties for any building owners, contractors, or subcontractors who fail to enforce accepted safety practices will be quadrupled. He also noted that another 100 inspectors were going to be hired and trained for the coming months, so that an increase in surprise inspections of construction sites could occur.
“No building is worth a person’s life.” he stated during his announcement.
The Department of Buildings shut down more than 500 construction sites over the past year due to safety hazards which put construction workers lives at risk. The mayor hopes that if constructin site operators become more concerned with the possibility that their site may be shut down, than cutting corners, lives can be saved.