Residents of the Jacob Riis housing complex narrowly escaped a frightening scene after a crane partially collapsed, sending part of the crane and heavy metal beams into the exterior of an apartment building, knocking air conditioners out of windows and shattering glass on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Luckily, no injuries have been reported, although the accident did briefly shut down FDR Drive and force residents to evacuate one of the New York City Housing Authority-managed buildings in the East Village.
Workers were using the crane to lift steel beams to the top of one of the apartment buildings at around 2:45 p.m. when the boom (the vertical part of the crane that extends from the base) “suddenly bent,” according to CBS. Video of the crane shows it dangling uselessly, bent in half where it’s supposed to stand strong.
“The construction load went off level somehow, and then it slid, lost its securement and slid down the side of the building,” according to FDNY Assistant Deputy Chief Kevin Brennan.
One woman said that part of the crane actually crashed through her window. “It went in, the glass shattered in my apartment, it went, you heard a loud boom and they ran,” resident Cynthia Martin told ABC. “My son was sitting right next to [the window], thank God the curtains were right there, but all the glass came in.”
Authorities evacuated the building while they confirmed there was no structural damage, and eventually everyone was allowed back into their apartments, although some needed to be provided temporary housing by the Red Cross in the meantime. On Wednesday morning, “the crane was brought down to a safe level with the assistance of a second crane,” cut into parts and taken away. The cause of the accident is still being investigated.
This crane accident seems to have occurred during a $71 million restoration project for the Jacob Riis Houses. The contract was awarded to the Tutor Perini Corporation by the NYCHA in December 2018, a company that has been involved in lawsuits related to unrealistically-low bids that result in artificially inflated costs after the fact. According to the press release, the project includes “restoration and infrastructure improvements” to the complex, which spans twelve buildings across three city blocks. Work began this summer “with substantial completion anticipated by mid-2022.”
We are thankful that this accident was much less severe than it could have been. If anybody had been struck by the crane or steel beams, the result could have been tragic. Falling air conditioning units, glass and other debris also created a very serious falling object hazard which easily could have taken somebody’s life.
Although it’s impossible to make any conclusions without more information, the FDNY’s comment that “the construction load went off level somehow” may hint at why this accident occurred. Either the crane’s maximum capacity had been exceeded, causing part of the crane boom or jib to fail, or the crane load had been improperly secured, causing the beams to tip and laterally stress the crane in a way it’s not meant to handle. It’s also possible there was some sort of manufacturer defect, and that one of the parts of the crane failed despite the workers doing their jobs properly.
Cranes perform crucial functions in the continued development of New York City, but given their stature and the weight of the loads they often work with, they can be incredibly dangerous if not handled properly. When crane accidents happen, whether they are caused by a manufacturer defect, operator error, or simply bad planning, serious injuries or even death can result.
In April 2019, construction worker Gregory Echevarria, an Army veteran and father of four, was killed by a falling crane counterweight. In November 2018, two construction workers suffered life-changing brain and spine injuries after a crane accident in East Harlem, the result of the crane’s maximum capacity being exceed by nearly 1,000 pounds, among other blatant violations of the manufacturer’s instructions.
These are preventable accidents that affect the lives of too many people. In some cases, it is possible to file a construction accident lawsuit to recover compensation for the financial ramifications these types of accidents cause. The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy are proud to fight for construction workers who get injured in this way, such as in this $12,000,000 settlement for a worker who was seriously injured in a 40-foot fall from a crane while working on a subway project in Manhattan.
We hope that investigators can find out exactly why this accident occurred so that the guilty parties can be held accountable, so that no more construction workers or pedestrians need to have their lives disrupted or even ended in crane accidents that should be entirely preventable.