The family of a construction worker killed in January while working on Baylor University’s new on-campus football stadium has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university and several construction and equipment companies.
Jose Dario Suarez’s wife, two daughters, son and mother are seeking unspecified damages in their lawsuit, which was filed last week in Harris County.
The petition says Harris County is a proper venue for the lawsuit 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. and Genie Industries Inc.
Austin Commercial, Austin Bridge and Road, and Derr and Isbell are construction companies building Baylor’s McLane Stadium and a walking bridge over the Brazos River linking the stadium to campus.
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.
Suarez and another man were working on the pedestrian bridge over the river behind Baylor Law School. The other man 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.
“This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the Suarez family, but we have not yet seen the lawsuit,” Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said, declining additional comment.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident but has not released its report.
“The family wants to know how and why this equipment ended up on the bottom of the Brazos River with their loved one attached to it, causing him to drown,” said Houston attorney Vuk Vujasinovic, who represents the Suarez family. “Lawyers for the school and construction companies allowed us only a very limited inspection and gave us one batch of photographs, neither of which answers this question.
“They told us their clients would not give us their investigation materials unless and until we sued their clients. With this lawsuit, we intend to get the evidence we need to determine how and why this fatality occurred, to hold the responsible parties accountable and to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.”
Bob Derr, president of Derr and Isbell and Suarez’s employer, called the incident “very tragic.”
“We are all really upset about it and we feel very badly for the family, obviously,” he said. “It is still being investigated, and other than that and asking people for their thoughts and prayers for the family, there is not much I feel like I can say right now.”
James Worley, president of Flexifloat Construction Systems, did not return phone messages to his office.
Flexifloat is identified in the lawsuit as the designer, manufacturer and marketer of the barge on which Suarez and others were working. The lawsuit alleges the barge was defectively designed, manufactured and marketed, a “producing cause” of the incident.
The lawsuit identifies Genie Industries as a company that designed, manufactured and marketed the boom lift to which Suarez was harnessed. It also alleges faulty design with the lift.
Spokespeople for Austin Commercial and Genie Industries did not return phone messages Tuesday afternoon.