The Aftermath of Tragedy: How Seattle’s Crane Collapse is Shaping Construction Safety Laws

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Over the last decade, Seattle has experienced an almost unprecedented construction boom. Sadly, there are serious safety concerns in the rush to complete projects. As reported by Los tiempos de Seattle, a tragic, terrifying crane collapse at a Google campus in the South Lake Union neighborhood killed four people in April of 2019—two workers and two motorists who were passing. 

Nearly five years later, a new safety law may finally be coming. At Grupo Para La Gente, we are strong advocates for victims and families. In this article, our Abogados de accidentes de grúas en Seattle discuss the accident, provide an overview of the proposed safety reforms, and explain your rights/options if you or a loved one is involved in any construction site accident in Washington. 

Background: A Terrifying Crane Collapse in Seattle

A zoomed-in look at damage to a Google office building in the South Lake Union area of Seattle, following a fatal crane collapse on April 27, 2019.

In April 2019, a tragic crane collapse in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood killed four people. Several others suffered serious injuries. The crane—used for construction at a Google campus—collapsed after safety failures. Most notably, the operators failed to follow proper safety procedures and dismantled the crane. Specific pins were prematurely removed, and the crane’s structural integrity was compromised. 

The incident led to a major investigation. As part of its review of the deadly construction site accident, Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) found three separate construction companies responsible for the accident. L&I determined that the incident was “totally avoidable.” Morrow Equipment LLC was fined $70,000, GLY Construction was fined $25,200, and Northwest Tower Crane Services was fined $12,000. 

Key Point: Regulators determined that the deadly crane collapsed because construction companies failed to follow manufacturer safety instructions to rush the job. 

Washington State Legislators are Proposing New Safety Regulations 

Construction companies should never cut corners on safety. Profits must be kept from taking priority over people. Washington State lawmakers are proposing new regulations to prevent similar incidents to the tragic 2019 Seattle crane collapse. On February 28th, 2024, Axios reported that House Bill 2022 (HB 2022)—a law focused on construction crane safety—is a high priority of several key lawmakers in the state capitol. If passed and signed into law, HB 2022 would require construction companies to obtain a proper state permit before they assemble, reconfigure, or disassemble a tower crane. Here are two significant points of the proposal: 

  1. A permit for a tower crane assembly or disassembly would only be issued to construction companies that have an employee who is familiar with the workings of that specific crane to provide oversight; 
  2. A permit would also require construction companies to work with the appropriate local government authorities to handle street closures and
  3. The law would hold employers criminally liable if they allow assembly or disassembly without proper supervision or fail to follow manufacturer safety instructions. 

These three points directly address safety lapses that contributed to the 2019 Seattle crane collapse. To start, the disassembly took place without proper oversight. Pins were removed in a wholly unsafe manner. Second, the crane collapse killed two motorists. The companies should have worked with the municipality (Seattle) to ensure road closures during disassembly. Finally, while necessary, the sanctions were relatively light—only slightly more than $100,000 in direct financial penalties. The new law would impose criminal liability for similar lapses.  

A Note On Legislative Process: The crane safety bill has passed unanimously in the Washington State Senate. While yet to be law, it is making significant progress and may vote in the House and vote on amendments in the Senate before the end of the March 2024 session. 

Construction Companies Must Follow Manufacturer Instructions

Tower cranes can help make major construction projects faster, more efficient, and even safer. However, they can be extraordinarily dangerous if the proper safety precautions are not followed. The good news is that we primarily know what to do: Manufacturer safety instructions guide assembly, disassembly, and reconfiguration. The South Lake Union crane collapse underscored the critical need for construction companies to adhere strictly to manufacturers’ instructions during crane assembly and disassembly. The failure to do so is negligence, putting construction workers and other nearby people at serious risk. 

Know Your Rights and Options After a Crane Collapse or Other Construction Site Incident

Construction companies must be held legally liable for negligence—especially when avoidable safety lapses lead to serious injuries or wrongful deaths. Both workers and passersby—as well as their families—have the right to take legal action to get justice. After a crane collapses on a construction site: 

  • Injured Victims Should Seek Immediate Medical Care: Any person hurt in a construction site accident should have their injuries evaluated and treated by a qualified doctor. Not only is prompt medical care crucial for safety, it helps to facilitate a legal claim. 
  • Construction Workers Should File for Workers’ Comp: All construction workers are entitled to no-fault workers’ comp insurance coverage in Washington. An injured worker should file for benefits regardless of how they were hurt on the job. 
  • Consider a Personal Injury Claim (Negligence Claims): Non-employees should also bring a personal injury claim after a crane collapse caused by negligence. Construction workers can also claim negligence against companies other than their employer, including contractors and subcontractors. If your loved one was killed in a construction accident, your family can file a wrongful death claim with expert lawyers

Contact Our Seattle Construction Accident Attorney Today

At Premier Law Group, PLLC, our Seattle construction accident lawyers are skilled, experienced, and justice-focused advocates for victims and families. We are here as a resource if you are ready to get legal help for a construction accident. Call or contact us online for a free, completely confidential consultation. With an office in Seattle, we handle construction accident claims, including crane collapses, in King County and the wider region of Washington.