$5 Million Settlement for Family of Construction Worker Crushed to Death in Excavation Collapse

A 42-year-old Reading construction worker was doing his job, working in an excavated trench where a house foundation was being built, when it collapsed suddenly and trapped him against a concrete wall, causing fatal injuries in June 2009 in Berks County.

Almost four years later, the man’s family has reached a $5 million settlement with the West Lawn, Pa.-based construction company that was performing the excavation, according to a recent story in The Legal Intelligencer.

The family of the deceased worker, Fidel Arana, sued the construction company, Grande Land, arguing that the business “was negligent in its excavation of a large residential housing foundation for failing to slope or ‘bench’ the walls of the ditch in order to prevent cave-ins,” according to the story.

The family’s lawsuit “pointed to citations Grande received for violating three Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards related to excavating land,” the report continued. “Those included failing to slope the excavation, failing to properly inspect it, and allowing standing water to accumulate within it.”

Arana died when he was crushed under the weight of an 8-foot wall of dirt that collapsed and crushed him in a trench against the concrete foundation that was being built, according to a June 2009 report in The Reading Eagle. The dirt wall collapsed as workers were removing steel forms that held the foundation in place while concrete dried, the story reported. Other workers rushed to try to free Arana but he was pinned by the wall of heavy dirt and suffered blunt force trauma to his chest and abdomen, which killed him.

Attorneys representing the family had determined that “there had been substantial rainfall in the area” before the wall collapse, and that “one of the excavation walls had already caved in and water had accumulated in the hole” on the morning of the incident, according to The Legal Intelligencer story. “The plaintiff estimated about three tons of dirt caved in on Arana.”

A key issue in the plaintiff’s case was an allegation that the construction company had not conducted mandatory efforts under federal laws from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to prevent such cave-ins, the story reported, and also failed “to have a competent person conduct daily inspections and inspections after rainstorms.” Witnesses for the construction company “had testified they never conducted any inspections of the excavation.”

In 2011, 721 workers were killed on the job in the construction industry, according to 2011 statistics, which are the latest available figures available from OSHA. Those 721 construction workers made up 17.5 percent of the 4,609 workers who were killed on the job in all types of businesses and industries that year. That’s up slightly from 4,551 employee fatalities across the nation in 2009, but it’s the second lowest annual total since the fatal injury census was first conducted in 1992, according to the Labor Department.

Two workers are killed each month in the United States due to trench collapses that occur in unprotected or improperly protected trenches, according to OSHA. One cubic yard of soil, which doesn’t seem like a lot of soil, can weigh as much as a car, according to the agency.

The primary hazard of trench and excavation incidents is employee injury from collapses, according to OSHA. “Soil analysis is important in order to determine appropriate sloping, benching, and shoring. Additional hazards include working with heavy machinery; manual handling of materials; working in proximity to traffic; electrical hazards from overhead and underground power-lines; and underground utilities, such as natural gas.”

Protective systems for trenches include sloping to prevent large amounts of dirt from being on-site and vulnerable to collapse, as well as using posts, beams or planking and hydraulic jacks to shore up trench walls to protect workers, according to OSHA. “Excavated or other materials and equipment must be at least 2 feet back from the edge of a trench” to prevent cave-ins, and “a safe way to exit must be provided within 25 feet of workers in a trench.”

If you or someone you love is employed in the construction industry, you certainly know that a serious construction-related accident can be deadly or debilitating for the rest of your life, affecting your personal mobility, earning potential and your livelihood. That’s not something that you want to take lightly.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or someone you love is ever seriously injured in a worksite, workplace or construction accident anywhere in the United States. At MyPhillyLawyer, you can consult with a qualified, experienced and compassionate attorney to explore all of your legal rights.

We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.