A Harris County judge has dismissed Baylor University from a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a construction worker who drowned last year while building the pedestrian bridge to Baylor’s new football stadium.
Judge Mike Engelhart of Houston’s 151st State District Court granted Baylor’s summary judgment motion Thursday, which removes the university as a defendant in the lawsuit.
While he granted Baylor’s motion, Engelhart overruled similar motions from eight companies named in the lawsuit who played various roles in the construction of the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Bridge or the equipment used to build it across the Brazos River, linking Baylor’s campus to McLane Stadium.
Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said Friday that Baylor can’t comment on “ongoing litigation.” But this ruling removed Baylor from the suit.
Jose Dario Suarez’s wife and family filed the wrongful death lawsuit after Suarez, 55, of Manor, drowned Jan. 28, 2014, while working on the bridge.
A hydraulic lift Suarez and Terry Watson were strapped to rolled off a modular barge and into the Brazos River. The men were tethered to the lift, but only Watson was able to free himself.
Houston attorney Vuk Vujasinovic, who represents the family, alleges in court filings that work crews made no attempt to rescue Suarez and Watson after they went into the river and continued to work while Suarez’s body lay on the river bottom because the project was behind schedule.
“At the end of discovery, it basically showed that Baylor really had no involvement in the ultimate construction activity,” Vujasinovic said Friday. “Baylor said all the construction companies were responsible for everything and blamed them for everything that happened. In terms of the actual impact on the case, it is negligible. The fact that Baylor is out is of no great import.”
The remaining defendants include Flexifloat Construction Systems; Austin Commercial Inc.; Austin Bridge and Road; Derr and Isbell Construction Inc.; Flintco; Genie Industries Inc.; Robishaw Engineering; and Core Safety.
Engelhart also rescheduled the trial of the lawsuit from June 15 to Nov. 16.
Suarez and Watson worked for Derr and Isbell Construction. Watson testified in a deposition that the water was “freezing cold” and “the deeper you went, the darker it got.” According to records filed in the case, Watson was under water for almost two minutes before he was able to free himself.
“When Mr. Watson surfaced, he was disoriented and swam around in a confused state before making it to a barge, where individuals on the barge pulled him out of the water,” a plaintiffs’ motion states. “Nobody went into the water to assist Mr. Watson.
“Mr. Suarez never surfaced. Nobody went into the water to assist Mr. Suarez because the water was ‘too cold.’ In fact, no attempt whatsoever was made to rescue Mr. Suarez as he drowned.”
A recent motion in the case, which quoted from a deposition by Waco police Officer Francisco Reyes, said workers continued constructing the bridge as Suarez’s body lay on the river bottom.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Derr and Isbell, $7,000 for failing to secure the lift to the barge on which it was sitting.