Local Worker’s Wrongful Death Suit Could See Trial By End Of Year

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One year after a Fayetteville construction worker was killed in an on-site collapse, his family’s wrongful death lawsuit remains in federal court and may be brought to trial before the end of the year.

Brannon Rhine, 20, died last May 5 when equipment struck a sewer line and a hole collapsed around him while The Vue Apartments was being built. Rhine left behind a pregnant fiancée, who was deposed earlier this year in a federal civil lawsuit brought against the construction company by Rhine’s family.

She gave birth to the couple’s child shortly after Rhine’s death.

The $75,000 lawsuit launched by April Hicks, the administrator for Rhine’s estate, has gone through several depositions and pretrial hearings. A disclosure hearing is set for May 20 in Judge Timothy L. Brooks’ federal courtroom in Fayetteville, according to court documents.

The case is set for trial Nov. 3 at 8:30 a.m. in Fayetteville, court documents show.

Rhine’s family filed the federal wrongful death lawsuit last October, saying his death was avoidable and caused by negligence of the supervising company. Business Construction Services, LLC, responded in court documents by saying Rhine did not act in accordance with common sense safety measures and is therefore responsible for his own death.

Documents filed by the construction company seek to deny Rhine’s fiancée from collecting any money that may come from the lawsuit. Attorney Sach Oliver told 5NEWS when the lawsuit was filed that he would need to look into the company’s claim regarding Rhine’s fiancée, but said he and the plaintiff’s side can argue that Rhine’s baby girl is a beneficiary.

Hicks’ lawsuit states Business Construction Services is at fault in Rhine’s death because the company failed to hire qualified workers and failed to properly train workers, among other safety allegations.

For a case to make it to federal court, the claim has to be a minimum of $75,000, and Oliver said a jury will have the last word on the amount.

“The value of this case is yet to be determined, but one of the factors is the value of life,” Oliver said shortly after the lawsuit was filed.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a $7,600 fine in July to the company building the Fayetteville apartment complex. In a citation, OSHA states employees in the excavation were not protected from cave-ins while working in the 6-foot trench.

The trenches are supposed to have stairways, ramps or ladders to allow employees to get in or out. On the day of that deadly accident, OSHA says employees were exposed to ‘slip and fall hazards egressing in and out of a trench greater than five feet deep.’ The excavation did not have safe means of getting in or out of it, according to OSHA.

Company officials said they paid for Rhine’s funeral.

Rhine’s was the first of two deaths at the site within a month of each other. In June, 44-year-old Jess Wilson of Joplin was installing siding on a boom lift when police say he struck his head on a high voltage power line, which killed him.

Officials say three other workers were hospitalized in the incident.

In addition to Business Construction Services, WW Enterprises, another subcontractor, was also fined in connection with the deaths. They received a $14,000 citation from OSHA, while ParkCrest Builders, another company, received a $19,600 citation, according to OSHA documents.