Just last month marked 40 years since one of the most deadly and injurious building collapses in American history. With the recent collapse of the Surfside Condominium in Miami, it seems people are just now realizing how serious negligence in design and construction is.
On July 17, 1981, the hotel chain was hosting a public dance when two suspended walkways above an event hall in a Kansas City Hyatt Regency collapsed onto guests below. The first walkway, which hung from the ceiling and connected two sides of the fourth floor, collapsed onto the second walkway, which hung directly under it. Unable to support the massive weight of two footbridges, the second walkway then crumbled onto the crowded dance floor below.
Heaps of debris lay in a pile of what was once a lively dance floor, and party goers who survived were trapped underneath heavy slabs of concrete and metal. Unsure of what to do after a construction accident, people tried to lift pieces of debris, but even the strongest could not free anyone. First responders and local construction workers rush to the scene with cranes, drills, and other heavy lifting equipment to try to free survivors. It’s even stated that on-site amputations had to be performed to free people.
In total 114 people were killed and 216 were injured. But how did something so terrible happen?
The answer to that question lay in the negligent engineering and design process. The original design plan included the walkways to be suspended by continuous rods, with the rods passing through both walkways and up to the ceiling.
However, engineers noticed that threading these long rods through both walkways and then hoisting them up in the air could easily result in damaging them. Instead, the design was hastily changed to two sets of shorter rods, with the second-floor walkway hanging directly under the fourth-floor walkway.
This sudden design change did not account for the additional weight put on the fourth-floor beams. Not only was the fourth-floor suspension supporting its own weight, but the second weight of another walkway, as well.
Experts stated that this is an error that even a first-year engineering student could catch. The subsequent investigation also found that designers used little to no calculations in the design and that changes to the construction plan had been confirmed over the phone at times instead of thorough documentation and mathematical calculation.
Jack D. Gillum, the head engineer of the project, then dedicated his life to educating others on how negligence in construction can lead to mass deaths.
More than 300 civil suits were filed against Jack D. Gillum’s company, resulting in billions of dollars worth of compensation being paid out. Many people don’t realize that suing someone for negligence can result in financial compensation, benefiting the victim and punishing the perpetrator.
Contact a bodily injury lawyer in Newport Beach if someone’s negligence in construction has resulted in your injury.