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Dallas jury awards more than $860 million to family of woman who died in 2019 crane collapse

A photo provided by Michael Santana shows a collapsed construction crane at the Elan City Lights apartments in Dallas after severe thunderstorms on Sunday.
Michael Santana
/
AP
A photo provided by Michael Santana shows a collapsed construction crane at the Elan City Lights apartments in Dallas after severe thunderstorms on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

The verdict came Wednesday less than a day after closing arguments.

A Dallas County jury on Wednesday awarded more than $860 million to the family of a woman who died in a 2019 crane collapse.

The jury found Greystar Development and Construction bore some responsibility for the collapse, which injured five people and killed 29-year-old Kiersten Smith. Smith's parents, Michele Williams and James Kirkwood, were plaintiffs in the suit.

The family's attorney, Jason Itkin, praised the jury's verdict.

"They worked hard, they showed up early, they stayed late, they considered all the evidence, and hopefully by their verdict that Greystar will now know that Kiersten’s life mattered," Itkin said.

In total, the jury awarded the family $860,012,006. The 12006 was symbolic — it was Smith's apartment number at Elan City Lights apartment complex.

Smith's mother was awarded $140 million for mental anguish, $50 million for future mental anguish, $50 million for loss of companionship and $100 million for future loss of companionship. Smith's father was awarded $7 million for mental anguish, $4 million for future mental anguish, $3 million for loss of companionship and $6 million for future loss of companionship.

The family was awarded an additional $500,000,000 in exemplary damages.

The tower crane collapsed into the complex during a severe storm on June 9, 2019, killing Smith and injuring five others.

At the center of the suit was two companies: Greystar and Bigge Crane and Rigging, which rented a crane out to Greystar.

Bigge Crane was not found at fault for the collapse.

In his opening statements and again during closing arguments, Itkin told jurors Smith and her fiancé Eric Ridenhour were making grilled cheese and soup for dinner that Sunday when the crane fell through their apartment. The floor gave out from beneath them, Itkin said, and dust filled the air.

Once Ridenhour pulled Smith from the rubble, he rushed her to the hospital, where Smith died. Ridenhour then called Smith's mother Michele Williams, who took the witness stand last Thursday.

Itkin argued it was Greystar's negligence that led to the collapse.

“This is a hard day,” he said during his closing argument. “For three-and-a-half years, I’ve been working with Michele to try to get them to take accountability, to take responsibility ... they’ve refused to do that."

Greystar was in the process of building a new apartment complex right next to Elan City Lights called The Gabriella, and the company rented cranes from Bigge Crane to do so. The day before the collapse, Greystar was working with another company to take down one of the cranes it was using, but needed an operator to keep the other crane out of the way.

That was Robert Hilty, who also testified last Thursday. Hilty told jurors he put the crane in weathervane mode before leaving for the night. A "weathervaned" tower crane swivels from side to side rather than falling forward or backward.

But video evidence showed the crane toppled with what Itkin said was the force of 26 SUVs when the storm hit June 9.

Greystar's attorneys declined to comment.

Correction: Due to a written error on a document provided to KERA, a previous version of this story listed an incorrect total award amount. It was $860,012,006, not $860,001,206.

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at tosibamowo@kera.org. You can follow Toluwani on Twitter @tosibamowo.

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.