Bigge Crane & Rigging Co. and real estate developer Greystar settled a personal injury case on the eve of trial with a man who was crushed in his car when a construction crane toppled onto the Dallas apartment complex where he lived.
The parties were set to go to trial Tuesday but struck a confidential settlement Monday evening, said lawyer Jeff Tillotson, of Tillotson Johnson & Patton, who represents the Greystar business entities named in the lawsuit.
David Rufila is one of more than 20 people who brought lawsuits after the crane collapsed on Elan City Lights apartments on June 9, 2019, amid a severe storm carrying winds over 70 mph.
Rufila was driving through the complex parking garage when the crane suddenly smashed the concrete, plunging his car multiple floors, according to his petition. Slabs of concrete and rubble crushed his windshield while the steering column and dashboard crumpled to the car’s floor, pinning his left leg.
“In the rush of events, David thought that he was going to die, as he expected to be crushed beneath the weight of the pancaking concrete and metal,” his petition stated.
Rufila struggled to free his leg as sirens, horns and car alarms blared around him. Two phone calls to 911 yielded busy signals. Rufila’s body shook and he screamed for help while fearing the entire structure was yet to collapse, according to his petition.
After painfully freeing his leg, Rufila crawled out the passenger-side window and caught the attention of two residents who helped him get to safety.
“The psychological damage, fear and anxiety caused by this traumatic event will remain with David for life,” his petition says.
At least a dozen more plaintiffs are suing the companies. They are slated to go to trial in groups of 4-6 plaintiffs, with the first scheduled for May, a December scheduling order shows.
Lawyers have yet to determine which plaintiffs will be grouped together, Tillotson said Tuesday.
The parents of a woman killed in the collapse went to trial in April of last year and won a jury verdict over $860 million — the second-highest Texas jury verdict in 2023. Jurors then decided Greystar bore the liability, not Bigge.
Several other residents of the apartment complex were injured that day.
Investigators determined the crane was knocked over because it had not been “weathervaned,” meaning the long arm was locked to the tall tower, leaving it to fight against the wind instead of rotating with the gusts.
The crane operator has maintained he did weathervane the machine before leaving the site the day before. He provided a written statement in a meeting with Bigge’s lawyers two days after the crash, according to Greystar’s lawyers at trial last year, and again in his recorded deposition. He also testified in trial last year that he weathervaned the crane.
Greystar’s lawyers at trial agreed with investigators the operator did not weathervane the crane. The question was whether the operator was an employee of Bigge or Greystar. (Greystar was represented by Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in the 2023 trial. Tillotson is representing Greystar in the remaining cases, according to a court document.)
The operator was on Bigge’s payroll, but the lease agreement characterized him as a “borrowed servant,” meaning he was an employee who was being loaned to Greystar for the project, Bigge lawyer, Darrell L. Barger, said at trial, which made Greystar “fully liable for any and all loss or damage” he caused.
Greystar pointed to the judge’s instruction to decide whose employee the operator was specifically “on the day in question,” which Greystar argued was the day before the crane collapsed when the operator worked on the crane a final time.
The Greystar entities named in the suit are: Greystar Development & Construction, LP – Gabriella Tower Contractor Series; Greystar Development & Construction, LP; and Gabriella Tower, LLC.
Jason Itkin of Arnold & Itkin, who represents Rufila, declined to comment.