Lawsuits fly over Chicago scaffolding collapse

March 14, 2002 |

The Chicago law firm that recently won a large settlement from a building owner for a fatality caused by falling glass is now part of the legal team that has filed suit in the March 9 wind-blown scaffolding collapse that killed three and injured eight others outside Chicago's John Hancock Center.

On March 13, local attorneys Thomas Demetrio and Robert A. Clifford filed suit in Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court on behalf of the family of two women, first cousins who were struck by the falling rig while sitting in their car.

Another suit soon followed for the third death, that one coming from the Chicago firm of Cochran, Cherry, Givens, Smith & Montgomery, in which O.J. lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. is a partner.

Some 42 floors up, gusts estimated from 45-60 mph had ripped the unmanned scaffolding free from its moorings and dropped it to the streets below. Demetrio's firm, Demetrio & Corboy last month won an $18 million settlement from insurer CNA Corp. over the 1999 death of a woman killed in Chicago by glass falling from CNA's headquarters tower.

This month's Hancock suit was filed against owner Shorenstein Management Inc., San Francisco; the local arm of Denver-based contractor AMS Architectural Technologies Inc.; scaffold manufacturer Beeche Systems Corp., Scotia, N.Y.; and Prime Staging Inc. of Bensenville, Ill.

Court documents allege that Shorenstein and AMS were negligent because they failed to ensure the scaffolding was secured safely, lower the scaffolding to the ground when they knew conditions were dangerous, supervise the contractors hired to do the work and otherwise abide by municipal codes for the safe operation of scaffolding rigs for both workers and pedestrians.

The lawsuits also claim that Beeche Systems supplied a scaffold that could become unsecured during expected use and prevailing weather conditions for Chicago and that Prime Staging failed to safely assemble and inspect the scaffolding, while the Cochran lawsuit charges Beeche had a duty to design, manufacture, distribute and lease or sell the system so that it was not defective or dangerous when used as it was designed.

AMS Architectural Technologies Inc., Prime Staging and Shorenstein refused comment. Other defendants were unavailable.

- BD&C

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