Florida

Two of his coworkers died while building Marriott near Disney World. Now he wants damages.

A construction worker who watched two of his colleagues plunge 80 feet to their deaths while building the JW Marriott near Disney World is suing the hotel and others for “gross negligence,” court records show.

Vernon Brown, a Polk County resident, alleges Marriott didn’t ensure the safety of the construction site, which he says cost Jerry Bell, 46, and Lorenzo Zavala, 34, their lives. The two men were standing on the scaffolding on Aug. 29, 2018, when it collapsed under the weight of the concrete being poured.

The lawsuit, filed in June in Orange County Circuit Court, also named Bonnet Creek Venture, DCS Investment Holdings, PCL Construction Services, Kimley-Horn & Associates, Universal Engineering Sciences, C&C Pumping Services and Cemex as defendants. Brown, who seeks financial restitution, alleges each party engaged in unsafe practices that put him and his coworkers at risk.

The suit alleges the concrete was “defective” and there were insufficient support structures on the construction site. And, the suit contends, the equipment was not properly inspected.

These factors put employees “in harm’s way to work on the seventh floor thus subjecting them to the increased peril and danger of an unsound structure,” according to the complaint.

Representatives for Marriott did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Brown’s lawyer also could not be reached for comment.

Brown was stepping off the scaffold when he felt it “give beneath his feet, as if it were the drop on a hangman’s gallows,” court documents say. Although the suit says he was touched by the falling scaffolding, it states Brown’s physical injuries stemmed from his “severe psychological trauma.”

Since the collapse, Brown has battled post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, the suit says. He is seeking an excess of $15,000 in damages.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined PCL Construction Services Inc. and Universal Engineering Sciences $157,792 in March, citing their failure to properly inspect the equipment.

PCL, whose fine was $144,532 out of the total, said it will contest the citation. Universal successfully petitioned OSHA to drop its $13,260 fine, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Despite the incident, the $282 million hotel is set to open in February 2020, according to the Marriott website.

C. Isaiah Smalls II is a reporter covering breaking and trending news for the Miami Herald. Previously, he worked for ESPN’s The Undefeated as part of their inaugural class of Rhoden Fellows. He is a graduate of both Columbia University and Morehouse College.
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