Families of Victims in Bridge Scaffolding Collapse Sue

April 23, 2008

The families of two men presumed dead after scaffolding collapsed under a bridge over the Arkansas River filed a lawsuit against two construction companies and a foreman in charge of the project in North Little Rock, Ark.

The wives of Juan Manuel Flores and Manuel Gonzalez filed the wrongful death suit in state district court in Dallas County. They’re seeking unspecified damages and medical, funeral and burial expenses.

The April 2 accident killed a third man whose body was found eight hours later in the rain-swollen, fast-moving river. A body was found in the Arkansas River near the accident site but wasn’t immediately identified, officials said.

The workers were installing a water main for the Central Arkansas Water utility.

The lawsuit alleges negligence on the part of Oscar Renda Contracting Inc. of Roanoke, SAC Manufacturing Inc. of Longview and project supervisor Charles Jackson.

Oscar Renda Contracting and Jackson “knew that a hazardous and dangerous condition existed,” the lawsuit said. SAC Manufacturing’s design of the work platform was faulty, and the company failed to determine the system’s load capacity, according to the suit.

Clay Miller, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Jackson had left the work site to get equipment for the installation. When he returned, the scaffolding had given way. Miller questioned Jackson’s ability to oversee the work site.

“It was clear he either didn’t have the training or he had it and just ignored the warning signs,” Miller said at a news conference attended by Gonzalez’s brother and uncle.

Jackson and the two companies did not immediately respond to messages left by The Associated Press. On the Oscar Renda Contracting Web site, the company advertises a memorial fund for the families of the three workers.

Miller said the system’s design was inadequate because a “thin” piece of steel was the only support for a roughly 15,000-pound load that included a 45-foot platform. Oscar Renda Contracting replaced a three-quarter-inch piece of supporting steel with one a half-inch thick, Miller said.

“A half-inch of metal was all that was between these men and the river,” Miller said.

The lawsuit also claims both companies violated federal safety standards. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said its investigation continues.

Associated Press reporter Jeff Carlton in Dallas contributed to this report.

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