Seattle Convention Center contractors face wrongful death lawsuit

The wife of a construction worker killed during the expansion of the Seattle Convention Center says project contractors ignored warning signs about the conditions that led to her husband’s death.

In a wrongful death complaint filed in King County Superior Court, attorneys representing Jennifer Phillips allege that Clark Construction Group and Lease Crutcher Lewis, operating as a joint venture to build the new Seattle Convention Center, “knew or should have known” that unmarked holes in the floor of the job site posed a safety risk.

An attorney for the joint venture, Clark/Lewis, said in an emailed statement the group is reviewing the lawsuit.

Bryan Phillips, 31, was using a scissor lift on the second story of the building in September 2021 when one of the lift’s wheels went over a hole in the floor that was covered with wood. The wood covering collapsed, the lift toppled over and Phillips fell to the street below and died, according to the complaint and documents from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

Phillips, a member of the local Cement Masons & Plasterers union, is survived by his wife and infant son, who was born the summer after Phillips’ death. Phillips worked for a subcontractor, Performance Contracting, or PCI, which is not named in the lawsuit. 

About six months after his death, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries fined PCI and Clark Construction Group a combined $20,000 for failing to ensure that hole covers at the site could support the weight of the equipment used nearby. 

The complaint filed Monday alleges that before Phillips’ death, a Clark Construction safety manager “raised safety concerns to the joint venture about the floor hole covers on the jobsite floor where Bryan was working at the time of the incident.” Clark/Lewis “disregarded” and “failed to act” on the safety manager’s warnings, the complaint says.

The family’s attorney, Kevin Coluccio, said that as part of his team’s investigation into the case, they received documents from L&I indicating that the safety manager “shared with one of the [L&I] investigators that she had warned of this hazard months before the incident.”

Another safety coordinator inspected the floor where Phillips worked less than a month before he died, the complaint says. That safety coordinator “photographed unmarked and insufficient floor hole covers where the incident occurred,” but did not note issues with the hole covers in his report, according to the complaint.

Clark/Lewis declined to comment on the details of the allegations. 

“Clark/Lewis is committed to providing a safe work environment for everyone on its job sites, with stringent safety programs and protocols in place,” attorney Mark Scheer said in a statement on behalf of Clark/Lewis. “We can confirm that we are in receipt of the lawsuit and are in the process of reviewing the claims made regarding this tragic accident. Naturally, our heartfelt condolences go out to the entire Phillips family for their loss.”

Before his death, Phillips had been assigned the task of wrapping steel ceiling beams with plastic and was using the scissor lift extended upward about 27 feet, according to the complaint. A three-quarter-inch piece of plywood over a hole in the floor collapsed, causing the lift to tip over, according to L&I documents. Phillips was ejected from the lift and fell to the street below, according to the complaint.

The hole covering was unmarked and “not coned off nor identified in any way,” the complaint says.

The state requires hole covers to be able to support at least twice the weight of employees and equipment that “may be imposed on the cover at any one time.” 

Six holes in the area were covered by plywood that was incapable of supporting the 11,000-pound lift, according to L&I.

Clark/Lewis “created, knew or should have known of the hazardous conditions and dangers caused by the floor hole covers” and “failed to protect and warn Bryan,” the complaint says.

The $2 billion Seattle Convention Center opened in January. The L&I fines against the two companies are “still in the appeals process” and the companies have not yet paid them, L&I spokesperson Matt Ross said in an email Tuesday. Further details about the appeals were not immediately available.

Attorneys for Phillips’ wife seek a jury trial and all damages available under the law.

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