West Virginia Federal Judge Consolidates Tower Collapse Suits

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justiceA federal judge in West Virginia U.S. District Court has granted a motion to consolidate six lawsuits involving a tower collapse that killed two tower workers and a firefighter called to the scene, and injured two others. Judge Irene M. Keeley agreed to combine five suits against SBA Communications and various entities. A sixth lawsuit filed by SBA Telecommunications LLC, as successor interest to SBA Telecommunications Inc. and SBA Towers LLC, was against S&S Communications Specialists Inc. and FDH Engineering Inc., according to the legal publication, West Virginia Record. Keely signed the order to consolidate April 11, and last Friday approved a motion filed on behalf of the dead and injured to extend the time to respond to SBA, an attorney with the case told Inside Towers yesterday (May 3).

Wrongful death lawsuits were filed on behalf of the administrators of Kyle Kirkpatrick and Terry Richard, both of Oklahoma, who were killed February 1, 2014, when the Despard tower in Clarksburg, WV collapsed. Personal injury lawsuits have also been filed on behalf of Randall McElhaney, of Texas, and Jerry Hill, of Oklahoma, who also sustained injuries in the collapse.

The Kirkpatrick, Richard, McElhaney and Hill lawsuits named SBA Communications Corporation of Palm Beach Gardens, FL and FDH Velocitel of Springfield, Il as defendants. Also listed originally as defendants were six subsidiaries of the two companies based in Charleston, reported WVAlways.com.            

A wrongful death lawsuit has also been filed on behalf of Nutter Fort, WV volunteer firefighter Michael Garrett, who was killed when a second tower collapsed as he and other first responders went to assist the workers, the news site reported.                                                           

Damon L. Ellis, an attorney for the plaintiffs who is representing Randall McElhaney among others, characterized this as the beginning of “a long and busy” case during an interview with Inside Towers yesterday. He said the case now moves into the discovery phase with depositions scheduled to begin in the coming months. Speaking about collapse survivors McElhaney and Hill, Ellis said, “it’s pretty bad, a real tragic situation. It will be with these survivors and their families for a long time. They watched their friends and coworkers die in front of them. A tower coming down is a lot of steel and it is never a good result.”

Ellis said a court date for the federal case is expected to be set sometime in the summer of 2017. A separate Harrison County Circuit Court case addressing firefighter Garrett’s death is winding through the court system and no dates have been set.

Ellis said plaintiffs cannot ask for a monetary amount to be awarded in wrongful death cases heard in West Virginia and that a jury decides what the award should be. With regard to awards for the injured, juries can be told specifics about medical bills and future earnings estimates, and consider pain and suffering.

David Sams, a SBA Communications vice president in Atlanta, acknowledged to Inside Towers the cases had been consolidated and the case is moving forward. He stressed that SBA Communications has an excellent safety program in place.

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