CLARKSBURG – A motion to consolidate six lawsuits involving a fatal cell tower collapse has been granted by District Judge Irene M. Keeley.
The lawsuits, five of which were against SBA Communications Corp.; SBA Towers LLC; SBA Infrastructure LLC; SBA Network Services LLC; FDH Velocitel; FDH Engineering Inc.; FDH Innovation; and FDH Inc., all involve a cell tower collapse that occurred on Feb. 1, 2014, which ended with the deaths of at least two men.
The sixth lawsuit was filed by SBA Telecommunications LLC, as successor in interest to SBA Telecommunications Inc. and SBA Towers LLC and was against S&S Communications Specialists Inc. and FDH Engineering Inc.
Keeley signed the order to consolidate on April 11, granting the order and consolidating the six cases into docket number 1:15-cv-00205.
In the April 8 motion to consolidate, the SBA defendants claimed that the lawsuit filed by True Knowledge Ministries International Inc., which was one of the tenants that had equipment located at the Despard site, should be consolidated with the other five cases, which had previously been consolidated back in January.
The plaintiffs in the four original lawsuits are J. Ron Wright, in his capacity as administrator of the Estate of Terry Lee Richard Jr.; Jerry Hill; Autumn Kirkpatrick, in her capacity as administratrix of the Estate of Kyle Kirkpatrick; Randall McElhaney.
On Feb. 1, 2014, McElhaney, Richard, Hill and Kyle Kirkpatrick were repairing and removing old structural supports when the Despard Cell Tower collapsed, according to a first amended complaint filed Sept. 9 in Harrison Circuit Court and removed to federal court on Nov. 2.
McElhaney, Wright, Hill and Autumn Kirkpatrick claim due to the rapid increase in the cellular phone industry, the number of towers were also increased rapidly and to meet this need, new tower companies were developed often without the knowledge, ability and/or motivation to properly train their crews to do their work competently, carefully and safely.
SBA and FDH were "well aware" of the risks involved in the work on the "older" Despard tower and that SBA "knew or should've known" the dangers involved in tower work after the 2013 death of a worker in Mississippi, who also died from injuries suffered while working on an SBA tower.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recognized an alarming increase in the number of injuries and fatalities occurring at communication tower work sites, according to the suits.
The plaintiffs claim SBA and FDH also knew or should have known that hiring firms with the requisite competence, expertise, knowledge and training would increase the cost of work on tower projects.
"SBA and FDH also knew or should have known that a likely consequence of the decision of SBA and FDH to leave decisions about the appropriate and safe procedure for carrying out the proposed modification of the Despard Tower to S&S created an unreasonable risk of injury and/or death to those employees," the complaints state.
Nonetheless, hired S&S to modify the Despard Tower without providing the company with the reasonable and necessary procedures to safely modify the tower.
SBA and FDH awarded and/or approved the award of the Despard Tower Contract to S&S even though they knew or should have known that S&S lacked the necessary competence, expertise, knowledge and training to safely perform the very work they hired S&S to do and the companies had previously barred S&S from working as a contractor after an employee had died in 2009.
The plaintiffs claim SBA and FDH knew or should have known that S&S did not have the necessary engineering competence, expertise, knowledge and training to replace the braces in a safe and proper manner.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. They are being represented by Damon L. Ellis and Jonathan R. Mani of Mani, Ellis & Layne.
SBA is represented by Philip J. Sbrolla and Matthew C. Schrebe of Cipriani & Werner PC.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number: 1:15-cv-00205