October 8, 2008

Contractor Disputes Chesterfield Collapse Report / Finding Stated That Firm Should Have Braced Stud in Fatal Chester Accident

The contractor for Fountain Square Condominiums is disputing an engineering report that faults his company for the fatal collapse of the building in Chester last month. R. Webb Moore, an attorney for McBar Industries Inc., said yesterday that he and his client are still reviewing the report by W. Carter Sinclair Jr. The structural engineer was hired by Chesterfield County to analyze and give an opinion on what caused the two-story building to collapse Sept. 10.

While a multijurisdictional grand jury found no criminal negligence, Sinclair concluded that the contractor failed to properly brace the metal studs in a first-floor wall that buckled under the weight of a shipment of drywall on the second floor.

"McBar Industries is gratified that the grand jury has determined that it was not negligent, but strongly disagrees with the engineer's conclusion that McBar Industries was somehow not diligent," said Moore, an attorney at Hirschler Fleischer law firm in Richmond.

The report was made public by Chesterfield on Thursday afternoon, even as the family considers litigation over the death of Scott Giordano, a 38-year-old Prince George County man who was installing insulation for McBar in the first floor of 4301 Fountain Square Plaza when the building fell.

His uncle, Vincent Giordano, said this week that he expects the family to file suit over the death. "There's no doubt in my mind that the responsible parties will be brought to task for this," Giordano said after the report was released on Thursday.

However, Virginia law may prevent a civil suit against the company because of the workers' compensation system.

"In general, workers' compensation is the sole remedy that an injured worker has from his or her employer," said James J. Szablewicz, chief deputy commissioner at the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission.

In some cases, a worker or his family could have a legal remedy against a negligent third party, Szablewicz added.

Sinclair's report concludes that the collapse began after a supplier loaded more than 100 sheets of drywall into two, unfinished residential condominiums on the building's second floor.

The cumulative weight of the drywall, floor and roof was more than twice what an unbraced steel stud in the wall below was capable of bearing, he wrote. After one stud buckled, the others followed and the building collapsed near its center.

Sinclair said the studs should have been braced temporarily during construction, as recommended by the manufacturer. The report, in addressing the respective roles of the contractor and Chesterfield building inspector, states:

"The building official is responsible for all permanent bracing; however he is not responsible for temporary bracing during construction."

Chesterfield officials would not comment on the report yesterday. "The common feeling is the report says everything it needs to say," spokesman Donald J. Kappel said.

- Contact Michael Martz at (804) 649-6964 or [email protected]

- Staff writer Mark Bowes contributed to this report.

MEMO: BREAKING NEWS 10/3/08 8:57 AM on inRich.com

Originally published by MARTZ; Times-Dispatch Staff Writer.

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