At least 12 legal actions for damages have been filed in civil court against Citadel Builders and other parties involved with the Hard Rock Hotel New Orleans project as a result of the Oct. 12 collapse of the then under-construction building that killed three and injured many others.
The lawsuits take aim at all phases of the project, claiming deficiencies and negligence in the planning, design and construction process. While it will be up to the court to decide the validity of each, the legal filings run the gamut of allegations pointing at potential causes and/or contributions to the incident, including claims such as:
- The design could not bear the full load of the hotel structure.
- The number and type of structural supports holding up concrete slabs on the hotel's upper floors prior to the collapse were inadequate.
- Pile load tests results submitted to the city were for a different project in a different location and not for the Hard Rock project.
- In order to meet the schedule, concrete was not allowed to cure for an appropriate amount of time.
- Unskilled workers were used on the project in order to save money.
One lawsuit is asking for class-action status, and others have been filed by local businesses demanding compensation for lost revenue and other damages while the area around the hotel site was blocked to traffic and pedestrians.
In addition to Citadel, other defendants in these lawsuits include 1031 Canal Development LLC, developer Kailas Companies, Harry Baker Smith Architects, Heaslip Engineering and All Star Electric.
Work to recover the bodies of two individuals who died in the collapse continues, but crews fear that recent rain could have made the remaining structure even more unstable. Officials are also working to determine the best way to complete the demolition of a damaged crane at the site as well as the rest of the partially erected structure.
And there is a long road ahead for the defendants as well.
"It's going to be a lot like the FIU (Florida International University) bridge collapse where everybody involved gets targeted in a lawsuit," said attorney Jason Kellogg, partner at the law firm of Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider + Grossman in Miami. "Eventually, an expert will work out what happened, and the parties at fault will be identified, and liability will be apportioned."
The National Transportation Safety Board recently determined that design and lack of adequate, independent review was the probable cause of the March 2018 collapse of the FIU pedestrian bridge, which killed six people and injured several others.
There is no indication yet of what caused one side of the Hard Rock structure to fail, although there was a video that someone recorded in the days leading up to the collapse showing workers expressing their concern about the ability of shoring to support the loads from concrete slabs.
In the meantime, he said, attorneys for the Hard Rock plaintiffs will be looking to the defendants' insurance companies first to recover damages. Once the insurance company tenders its entire policy limit, then attorneys could continue to seek damages from the companies themselves, although some, like small engineering firms, often have very little in the way of assets.
The companies that have only insurance as a way of paying damages will likely reach settlements first, he said, The attorneys will keep "the big fish," or those defendants with additional assets like cash, equipment and property, for last.
Even after the lawsuits are settled, Kellogg said, contractors face an additional problem — exposure through the remainder of their policy periods. Since they max out their coverage in situations like these, they will have to come out of pocket for any additional claims until their next annual policy kicks in. In addition, those companies will more than likely face increased insurance premiums after such a loss.