The acquittal today of crane rental company owner James Lomma, on charges of negligent homicide and manslaughter, brings to a close the third high-profile New York criminal case against construction workers or executives with a not guilty verdict. Which raises the question as to whether the criminal arena was ever the right place to seek redress.
Three different construction projects all had deadly outcomes. It is a tragedy any time someone is killed on a project. And those who play a role in the cause of an accident should be held accountable. But the complexity of circumstances leading to each accident belie a criminal process. Anyone who handles construction disputes in a civil setting would view the criminal standard – beyond a reasonable doubt – as well-nigh unattainable. Despite what we may argue to a judge, jury or arbitrator, very few construction disputes are so easily characterized.
Some of the persons or companies involved in the three projects in question may still be held civilly liable to the individuals and families of those who were injured or killed. In the aftermath of construction accidents, though, prosecutors should carefully consider whether criminal charges are justified. Judges and juries are likely to find that project nuances and complexities preclude any decision beyond a reasonable doubt.