In a closely watched case, a Philadelphia jury recently cleared a contractor of murder charges, but found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the negligent demolition of a building that collapsed in 2013 killing six people in the neighboring structure. This case is a reminder that the construction industry is a dangerous one, and when people are injured or killed, the possibility of criminal prosecution exists.
The prosecutors in Pennsylvania had charged the contractor with a half dozen counts of third-degree murder for what was alleged to be the known use of wrongful methods to demolish a building in downtown Philadelphia. The demolished building collapsed into a Salvation Army thrift store and killed six people. The contractor’s attorney argued that the project architect was in control of the site and that the contractor only had been following orders being given by the architect. The jury acquitted the contractor of murder. However, the jury still convicted the contractor for involuntary manslaughter for conducting the operations negligently, because he had removed the steel supports from the building to sell as scrap, thereby destabilizing the building and causing its collapse. The contractor will be sentenced in January with each involuntary manslaughter charge carrying a maximum sentence of up to five years. Civil suits have also been filed, which will continue after the criminal trial. Here is further information on the conviction.
Criminal trials of contractors in Maine are rare indeed, but it is worth remembering that construction being performed every day is a dangerous exercise. While we are often focused on OSHA and workers compensation issues, it’s useful to remember that criminal prosecutions can happen when there is a death or serious injury on a project.