New York’s king of cranes dethroned

By Gabriel Rom

James F. Lomma, a Whitestone resident once known as New York’s king of cranes, will have to pay over $96 million in total damages to the families of two victims from a 2008 crane accident.

In two separate jury decisions in State Supreme Court in Manhattan , Lomma and his company were held responsible for the deaths of two people killed when a crane collapsed in Manhattan. The families were awarded two installments of approximately $48 million each—the first for their economic losses, pain and suffering; the second for punitive damages in civil cases.

On May 28, 2008, the horizontal arm of a 240-foot crane began to circle and then snapped off, launching the cab and upper portion of the arm into a building on 91st Street and First Avenue. The crane’s operator, Donald C. Leo, and a construction worker, Ramadan Kurtaj, were both killed.

The decisions concluded a marathon ten-month civil trial. Lomma was acquitted of criminal charges in 2012 in connection with the accident, but the six-person jury in civil court determined that he was to blame because of a faulty bearing used to repair the crane. That bearing, which was a metal ring that allowed the crane to turn, gave way due to a faulty welding job done by a Chinese company that the victim’s families argued was chosen by Lomma in order to save money, The New York Times reported.

The families also alleged that Lomma knew the part was defective before the accident. According to the Times report, a key piece of trial evidence was an e-mail sent from the Chinese company RTR Bearing to one of Lomma’s employees, which helped establish that Lomma was made aware of serious security risks prior to the accident. Lomma’s lawyers contended that the collapse was not the result of improper oversight but of human error, arguing that Leo was at fault.

Lomma has faced penalties from the city before. In 2013 the city Department of Buildings issued $132,800 in fines against his company for an accident in Long Island City which left seven workers injured

Lomma was acquitted of all criminal charges related to the incident in 2012, when his attorneys successfully argued that the accident was caused by Leo, the crane operator.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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