After the longest civil trial in Manhattan Supreme Court history, a jury found James Lomma liable for the 2008 crane collapse that killed Donald Leo, 30, and Ramadan Kurtaj, 27—ordering the crane magnate to pay the families of the victims a total of $96 million.
The two men were killed when a Lomma-owned 200-ft-tall crane operated by Leo fell to the ground during construction of a high-rise building at 91st Street, crushing Kurtaj, a construction worker standing below on the street.
While Lomma’s defense team alleged that Leo had caused the collapse, lawyers for the family argued that the crash was caused by a cracked turntable on the crane that the crane magnate had chosen to replace in China. The mechanic in charge of overseeing these repairs pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in 2011, although Lomma, 69, was acquitted of all criminal charges in 2012.
David Kwass, partner at Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, weighed in on why Lomma might be found 61% liable for the accident after being acquitted criminally. “Legal standards for criminal liability and civil recklessness are different, and they have different burdens of proof… A conviction for criminal recklessness would have required a higher quantum of proof regarding what Mr. Lomma knew about the likelihood his decisions would lead to catastrophe. Also, the criminal burden of proof is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ in contrast to the civil burden of proof, ‘more likely than not.’”
Bernadette Panzella, attorney for the Leo family, contends that Lomma’s own testimony heavily influenced the verdict.
“In the Lomma criminal trial defendant James F. Lomma exercised his constitutional right to ‘remain silent’ and did not testify,” she said. “However, in this civil trial Lomma was subpoenaed by the plaintiffs and testified for a dozen days about his conduct, which the jury found to be reckless and wanton under the legal definition of that term, warranting punitive damages.”
While his two companies, James Lomma LLC and New York Crane Equipment Corp., will pay part of the $96-million settlement, Lomma was ordered to personally pay a portion as well.
“Generally, business owners and principals who perform work in the regular scope of their job duties are not sued individually because their actions/inactions are attributed to their companies, which carry the insurance,” said Kwass. “But… when a principal goes out of his usual scope of work duties and does so recklessly, he can be held personally responsible. “
Lomma’s attorney Glenn J. Fuerth, says an appeal of the verdict is planned.