Liabilities Mount in Wake of Sioux Falls Building Collapse

December 20, 2016

The parties who have a potential legal claim in the fatal collapse of a building in downtown Sioux Falls, S.D., have had a final opportunity to inspect the ruins before crews start removing critical pieces of the building.

Lawyers and experts have inspected the site and will draw their own conclusions about what caused the Dec. 2 collapse, which killed a construction worker and trapped a woman three hours, the Argus Leader reported.

Hultgren Construction was in the middle of converting the Copper Lounge and neighboring Skelly’s Bar into a space for a drug store at the time of the collapse. The building also included apartments.

The various investigations will determine who is responsible, and in turn liable, for damages. Insurance investigators will determine a cause and decide whether it’s covered under various policies. They also will also conclude if Hultgren Construction acted recklessly or negligently.

Mark O’Leary, a lawyer representing the construction company, declined to comment on the issue.

Business owners’ insurance generally covers damages to the property and covers liability if someone gets injured on the property. But in some cases, property insurance doesn’t cover damages caused by construction.

Hultgren Construction had a city-issued permit authorizing the demolition of cosmetic features. Pictures posted to the construction company’s social media page show the demolition of what experts believe may have been a load-bearing wall, the newspaper reports.

People who could file claims includes the family of the construction worker who died, Ethan McMahon; the woman injured in the collapse when the floor of her family’s apartment fell in; a neighboring bar that was damaged; and nearby businesses that were forced to close at the height of the holiday retail season.

Betsy Ertel, a spokeswoman for the Cincinnati Insurance Cos., which insured the building, said the company was working diligently to gather all information, “so that we can bring it to a close as soon as possible.”

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