The company that owns the ill-fated Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans filed suit this week against a host of construction contractors, subcontractors and insurance companies over the 2019 building collapse that killed three workers and injured dozens more.
The suit was filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court late Monday, the first anniversary of the collapse of the upper floors of the 18-story building.
The ownership group, 1031 Canal Development, is led by Mohan Kailas. But company officials have said principals of two of the project’s main contractors — Denzel Clark, owner of general contractor Citadel Builders, and Todd Trosclair, owner of electrical contractor All-Star Electric — also owned a share.
The development company blames the building’s failure on Citadel, All-Star, Heaslip Engineering, architect Harry Baker Smith and 15 other subcontractors. Because of the company’s contract with Citadel to build the hotel at Canal and North Rampart streets, it also sued the insurance providers of each contractor and subcontractor.
The lawsuit takes particular aim at Heaslip, whom investigators for the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration have cited for several key violations. The development company’s suit asserts that Heaslip failed to design the proper support beams and columns or to calculate the proper loads that each floor could support. It branches out from there to the lead contractor, Citadel, and the various trades subcontractors.
Nearly a year after the top floors of the Hard Rock Hotel collapsed, killing three workers, injuring 18 others and straining city resources, N…
“Just as Heaslip did not run appropriate load calculations and analyses, neither did the general contractor or any subcontractor or supplier,” 1031 Canal alleges.
The owners also blame steel subcontractor Hub Steel for the way it fabricated and installed beams and metal decking on the upper floors. Metal decking was used like pans for pouring concrete on the top 10 floors of the building. An investigation by WWL television and The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate in November showed how the gage of metal decking was changed and the spans required to support the decking with steel beams did not match what was in the structural plans.
“The decking system designed, manufactured and installed by Hub Steel was improperly erected and installed and/or was inadequately designed for the building,” 1031 Canal alleges.
The suit says the decking system caused too much weight to be placed on the 16th floor, which contributed to the collapse. It also asserts that “load calculations and analyses would have established that the building had structural problems,” but that no alarms were raised because the subcontractors either did not do the analyses or ignored the red flags raised by the tests.
Attorneys for Heaslip and Hub Steel could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But in other pending lawsuits where they were accused to have contributed to the collapse, both companies have denied wrongdoing. Heaslip has denied reviewing, approving or implementing deficient engineering plans, and Hub Steel has denied its materials were improperly fabricated or installed.
Dozens of emails obtained by WWL show Kailas got involved in construction decisions, but none that appeared to involve the building’s structural integrity.
In February 2019, for instance, a Citadel project manager writes about “huge increases in costs” with drywall, and a Kailas Co. employees responds: “I need to get with Mr. Mohan first to see what he wants to keep and to remove.” In June, another Kailas employee tells the construction team: “Until further notice do not continue construction on the condo model unit; focus on the mock up rooms.”
Other emails show project managers were under pressure to finish work in the weeks before the collapse. The minutes of a contractors’ meeting on Sept. 17, 2019, state that the concrete on the 18th floor rooftop must be poured by the end of September. “Every effort must be made to make this happen,” the document says.
As it turned out, the final concrete pour wasn’t done until Oct. 5, a week before the collapse.
In another email Sept. 24, a Citadel manager writes to a Heaslip engineer, “We don’t have time for the engineering calculations” for pre-fabricated metal framing, which were scheduled to be installed on the rooftop for what was supposed to be a bar and pool deck.
The suit is the latest in a series of legal accusations about blame for the collapse.
An enormous banner featuring a photo of the late Anthony Magrette rippled gently in the breeze Monday near the Hard Rock Hotel site, where the…
The development company has for a year been fighting with City Hall over the cleanup of the Hard Rock site. Tensions repeatedly flared over the past year over the recovery of the two bodies that remained in the wreckage. Anthony Magrette’s body was removed from the building the day after the collapse, but the remains of Quinnyon Wimberly and Jose Ponce Arreola were trapped for 10 months.
A week after the final body was recovered, the city sued 1031 Canal, its partners and subcontractors to recover costs associated with the collapse, from cleanup to security.
“We will continue to hold the building’s ownership accountable and stand with our families to seek justice. This lawsuit is a step towards doing just that,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said when that suit was filed. “Our city was harmed. Our people were killed. No amount of delay or denial or excuses can change that fact — and we will not allow those responsible to evade responsibility for the damages they have caused to our city.”
The 1031 Canal company hoped to finish demolishing the building this week. But an active 2020 hurricane season forced several pauses in the work, and the target completion date has been pushed back to January.
CORRECTION: Denzel Clark’s first name was misspelled in earlier versions of this story.