Coverage provided under an owner-controlled insurance program (OCIP) could pay for much of the damage award in a Texas jury’s judgment in the wrongful-death civil lawsuit connected to ironworker Jose Dario Suarez, according to court records. He drowned when the boom lift he was on fell into the Brazos River on Jan. 28, 2014, while building a bridge at Baylor University in Waco (ENR 4/18 p. 31).
A jury in a state court in Houston on April 15 awarded $17.7 million in damages to Suarez’s family.
Family attorney Vuk Vajasinovic claims that the jury considered the project’s prime contractor, Austin Bridge & Road, to be responsible. “Only through trial were the plaintiffs able to show that Austin Bridge & Road was responsible,” said Vujasinovic. His claim about responsibility could not be verified by court records or news accounts of the verdict in the Waco Tribune.
Vujasinovic had originally sued many contractors and equipment manufacturers involved in work on the bridge project, part of the construction of a $215-million football stadium. The defendants included Suarez’s direct employer, steel erector Derr & Isbell, and Austin.
The attorney for Austin Bridge & Road could not be reached for comment about whether the company will appeal.
Certificate Shows Liability Insurance Policy
If the verdict and damage award stand, the insurance available to Austin in Baylor’s owner-controlled insurance program may be tapped to cover the damage award. According to a certificate of insurance in the court record, insurance provided under the OCIP by ACE American Insurance Co. and various co-insurers included general commercial liability with a limit of $2 million per occurrence for personal injury. An umbrella liability layer of coverage tops out at $15 million per occurrence. The certificate was issued to Dallas-based Austin Commercial, LP, which is Austin Bridge & Road’s parent or affiliate. Baylor and ACE officials could not be reached for comment.
Austin Bridge & Road had argued that under Texas law the Suarez family was entitled only to payouts from workers’ compensation insurance. The firm also submitted a motion decision asking for a directed verdict that state law barred the Suarez family from seeking additional compensation via a negligence claim.
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