Family of man killed in trench cave-in is suing his ex-employer for $15 million

September 25, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

The family of a Baltimore man killed when a trench collapsed on him in Ellicott City three years ago has sued his former employer, saying the company did not take steps to prevent the cave-in.

The wife and five children of Robert Eugene Jones seek $15 million in damages from T. M. Moylan Plumbing & Heating Inc. of Catonsville, court records say.

Mr. Jones died Sept. 15, 1989, when a deep trench in which he was working caved in, burying him under tons of dirt and debris, the suit says. He was 40 years old.

The trench was dug for water and sewer lines that were being installed for a new housing development in the 2900 block of Timber Trails Court in Ellicott City.

The suit was filed Sept. 14 in Howard County Circuit Court by Mr. Jones' wife, Deborah Jones, and their children. The family is asking for a jury trial, which has not been scheduled.

Timothy Moylan, president of the plumbing and heating company, referred comment to the firm's lawyer.

"Mr. Jones was in the ditch unbeknown to his supervisor," said Gerard Martin, a Baltimore attorney representing the company. "He was told not to go in."

In the suit, the family alleges that Mr. Moylan did not ensure that the trench -- about 90 feet long and between 6 and 14 feet deep -- was properly stabilized before employees entered it.

"[The company] was aware of the hazards associated with this trenching excavation, and had actual knowledge that this trench was unsafe," the suit says.

The Moylan firm failed to make sure the trench met all federal and state standards for a safe work place, according to the suit.

After the accident, Mr. Moylan stated that Mr. Jones should not have gone into the trench because it was incomplete and lacked the proper shorings for support.

The state Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board had levied a $68,000 fine against the Moylan company for what it called "willful" and "serious" violations that contributed to Mr. Jones' death.

In a settlement, the firm paid a $10,000 fine and established safety programs for employees, says Craig Lowry, chief of the board's occupational safety and health services.

"At the time, it was one of the biggest cases we ever had," Mr. Lowry says.

The board cited the company for failing to take proper safety precautions and educate workers on the hazards posed by trenches.

The board said when the citations and fines were issued in October 1989 that Mr. Jones' death could have been prevented because he was not authorized to be in the ditch.

Mr. Jones had worked for the plumbing and heating company for seven years.

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