Civil trial over deadly 2019 Dallas crane collapse begins
Lawyers want a Dallas County jury to decide who is responsible for the crucial mistake that caused a tower crane to collapse into Elan City Lights apartment complex in 2019.
A Dallas County jury heard opening statements Wednesday in a civil case over a 2019 crane collapse that left one person dead and five injured.
Dallas residents who witnessed the crash through their apartment building sued two companies — the owners of the crane and the owners of the apartment property.
The crane collapsed into the Elan City Lights apartment complex during a storm on June 9, 2019. Plaintiff attorney Jason Itkin told jurors 29-year-old Kiersten Smith and her fiancé Eric Ridenhour were making grilled cheese and soup for dinner that day when "everything went dark," and it seemed like the floor was falling from beneath them.
Ridenhour pulled Smith from the rubble of the fallen apartment, and she later died at the hospital. Itkin said Ridenhour called Smith's mother Michele Williams to break the news.
“She wanted to know what went wrong and why," Itkin said. "And if it was someone's fault, she wanted to make sure … they were held accountable."
Itkin said one of Greystar Real Estate and Property's employees failed to properly secure the crane they were using to build another apartment building nearby. Putting a tower crane in weathervane mode would ensure it swivels side to side in case of strong wind, not forward or backward.
Itkin also argued an outdated inspection, loose bolts and a Greystar sign attached to the crane all led to the collapse.
"There was a systemic failure and a reckless disregard for safety," Itkins said.
Dana Fox, the defense attorney for Greystar, acknowledged the crane wasn't set to weathervane and the inspection was expired. But Fox said that wasn't his client's responsibility.
Bigge Crane and Rigging were responsible for ensuring the security of the crane as the company that leased it out to Greystar, he said.
“We hired Bigge because they have the expertise required to run these cranes,” Fox said.
He also argued Robert Hilty, a crane operator and the last person to control the fallen crane, was employed by Bigge Crane, not Greystar, therefore the property owners weren't at fault.
Bigge Crane's attorneys said neither argument was true. Rather, Attorney Clayton Callen argued it's up to any company that rents a crane to keep it up to standards.
Both defendants played pre-recorded video of Hilty's deposition, in which he said in two different instances he was on Bigge's payroll, but also essentially a Greystar employee.
“Just wait until you've got that complete picture," Fox told jurors after three hours of opening statements.
The trial is expected to continue for three weeks. Jurors will hear testimony from Hilty, Williams and Bob Faith, Greystar's chief executive officer, as well as other expert witnesses.
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