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Prosecutors Pursuing Criminal Charges Against Grossly Negligent Builders (NY)

October 20, 2016

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A recent <a href="">Wall Street Journal Article</a> details the Manhattan District Attorney’s push to bring criminal charges against contractors who have sacrificed worker safety for profits.  The recent Manhattan construction boom has, according to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., created incentives for builders to cut corners.  According to the New York Department of Buildings there were 92 million square feet of new construction in 2015, up from 19 million in 2011.  During that same period, accidents more than tripled, and there has been five construction-related deaths so far this year, compared with twelve last year, and eight in 2014.
The article notes the recent manslaughter conviction of general-contracting firm Harco Construction, LLC for the death of Carlos Moncayo, a worker who was a worked killed in a 2015 trench collapse at a Meatpacking District construction site.  The matter is under appeal and the attorney for Harco believes it will be overturned.  Past attempts to bring manslaughter charges in construction accidents have been largely unsuccessful.
The construction industry has to battle a negative public perception regarding worker safety.  However, construction involves inherently dangerous work.  The article noted that the nature of the industry itself often makes it difficult to determine who, if anyone, is at fault.  The intertwined responsibilities of companies, contractors, subcontractors and workers further complicate this determination.
Despite the recent Harco conviction, the impact of the District Attorney’s office's push for criminal charges remains to be seen.  Given the dangerous nature of construction, accidents are an unfortunate but natural consequence.  Those incidents and resulting litigation have largely remained in the civil, not criminal, realm.  Prosecutor Diana Florence, whose recent efforts were discussed in the article, is pursuing more construction cases, but carefully choosing them.  Despite this caution, these efforts symbolize a changing dynamic with important consequences for the construction industry.  The District Attorney’s Office efforts, however well-intentioned, could set a dangerous precedent and must be limited to only those cases where the evidence, not the tragedy, demands it.   Thanks to Justin Pomerantz for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.


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