A construction worker killed in January while working on a pedestrian bridge to Baylor University’s new football stadium knew the risks of the job and is responsible for his own death, the general contractor over the $266 million project said in a response to a lawsuit.
Jose Dario Suarez’s wife, two daughters, son and mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Harris County in March against the university and several construction and equipment companies.
Vuk Vujasinovic, the Houston attorney who represents the Suarez family, filed the lawsuit in Harris County because one of the defendants, Flexifloat Construction Systems, is located in Houston.
Besides Baylor and Flexifloat, the suit also names as defendants Austin Commercial Inc.; Austin Bridge and Road; Derr and Isbell Construction Inc.; Flintco; Genie Industries Inc.; Terex Corp.; Robishaw Engineering; and Core Safety.
A trial date is set for June 16 in 151st State District Court in Houston.
Suarez, 55, of Manor, drowned Jan. 28 after a hydraulic lift he and another construction worker were strapped to slipped or rolled from a modular barge into the Brazos River.
In its second amended response to the lawsuit, attorneys for Flintco deny that Flintco caused Suarez’s death and said his injuries either were caused by “the negligent actions or inactions of someone other than Flintco or were caused by an unavoidable accident that in no part was triggered by, caused by, or could have been prevented by Flintco.”
Suarez and Terry Watson, employees of Derr and Isbell, were working on the pedestrian bridge over the river behind Baylor Law School. Watson was able to untether himself after the lift went into the river, but Suarez was not.
Divers found Suarez’s body still strapped to the lift about four hours later.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration investigated the accident and cited Derr and Isbell for failing to properly secure the lift to the barge on which it was sitting. OHSA fined the company $7,000.
Vujasinovic said about 10 depositions have been taken in the lawsuit, with probably 10 more to go.
Watson testified in his deposition that he moved the boom lift from the center of the barge to the corner to give them better access to a work area. The lift was not chained down, as regulations required it to be, Vujasinovic said.
The barge was secured to the bottom of the river by tubes called “spuds,” Vujasinovic said. If someone wanted to move to another work area, workers would have to remove the spuds, move the barge and reposition the spuds, which Vujasinovic said is more difficult and time-consuming than merely moving the lift on top of the barge.
“The circumstances certainly allow for the possibility that time sensitivity was an issue out there,” Vujasinovic said. “Certainly, one possibility the jury could consider is time sensitivity because I can’t think of any other reason why they didn’t choose to do it the safer way.”
Vujasinovic said that in another deposition, Anthony Garcia, safety manager for Austin Bridge and Road, testified that he told Steve Jordan, a Flintco official, that workers on the lift boom faced a higher risk of drowning if they were tethered to the work platform. He said he suggested that they wear safer wearing flotation vests in case they and the equipment went into the water.
Garcia testified Jordan insisted company policy required them to be harnessed to the boom and said he would not change it, Vujasinovic said.
Other testimony showed that this particular Derr and Isbell work crew had never worked on a project that spanned water, Vujasinovic said.
Attorneys for Derr and Isbell, Flintco and Austin Bridge and Road did not return phone messages left at their offices.