Carlos Moncayo was just 22 when he was crushed to death by thousands of pounds of dirt at a construction site in Manhattan’s meatpacking district. More than seven years later, a construction safety bill named after him could become law, if Gov. Kathy Hochul chooses to sign it. The legislation, known as Carlos’s Law, would dramatically raise the fines faced by corporations for construction accidents that result in criminal convictions.
While the bill passed both houses of the State Legislature on the final day of the session last month, Ms. Hochul’s office has said only that she was reviewing it.
Prosecutions for injuries or deaths on construction sites are exceedingly rare nationwide, but the Moncayo case was an exception. The Manhattan district attorney’s office pursued charges, and the general contractor, Harco Construction, was found guilty of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.
The company was ultimately sentenced to pay just $10,000 because of state-imposed limits on corporate penalties. The district attorney at the time, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., denounced the outcome, saying the fine was merely “Monopoly money” for the company.
Supporters of Carlos’s Law say that the specter of much higher fines in such cases would deter contractors from cutting corners on safety, sometimes with perilous consequences.
The city’s Department of Buildings has recorded 84 construction-related fatalities since 2015. Statistics shows that deaths are more likely at nonunion sites, where workers may face pressure to comply with unreasonable demands.
Diana Florence, who served as the lead prosecutor on Mr. Moncayo’s case, said in an interview that many construction injuries and even deaths are not properly investigated from the outset.
But the Moncayo case hinged on a coincidence: A police supervisor who responded to the scene had once worked in construction, and he immediately recognized that the pit that Mr. Moncayo was working in was not reinforced, as it should have been.
“He realized that the trench was basically a ticking time bomb,” Ms. Florence said.
Prosecutors would later argue that supervisors had ordered Mr. Moncayo, who was undocumented and did not belong to a union, to go into the pit despite the danger, because the project was behind schedule.
The site they were working on, near the High Line, had once been the restaurant Pastis and was being turned into a Restoration Hardware store.
The case spurred a yearslong effort to increase the fines in such cases and to expand liability so that companies can be held responsible for the actions of a greater range of employees.
Carlos’s Law was first introduced in 2017 and passed the State Assembly that year, but was held up in the State Senate by opposition from Republicans and the real estate industry.
This year, though, there was a breakthrough. The Mason Tenders’ District Council, an alliance of construction laborers’ unions and a major force behind the bill, reached agreement in May with the Real Estate Board of New York on adjustments to the legislation, including changes to provisions affecting supervisors and foremen.
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John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: John@LIConstructionLaw.com or (631) 608-1346.
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