U.S. District Court Northern District of Florida Judge Hope T. Cannon has ruled against Skanska on charges that the company deliberately destroyed evidence by wiping company cellphones in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally and the trail of destruction left by Skanska’s unsecured barges in Pensacola Bay.
This is just further confirmation for the citizens of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties that the construction company is not a trustworthy community partner, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars they are being paid by taxpayers.
The finding likely came as no surprise to roughly 1,000 local residents and businesses who are seeking damages from the company. Skanska has resisted taking any financial responsibility for the widespread harm to properties and businesses that resulted from the destruction and bridge outages caused by the company’s barges.
As reported by the PNJ’s Emma Kennedy, “The claimants’ attorneys — primarily from law firms Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis and Overholtz; Levin Papantonio Rafferty; and Beggs & Lane — claimed that Skanska deliberately wiped cellphones of multiple important officials, including those responsible for the company’s hurricane plan and for relocating the 23 construction barges that ultimately caused significant damage to the bridge and other property.”
This is in advance of the upcoming bench trial that is set for Sept. 13 that will decide whether the pool of claimants can include those with only economic impacts like businesses and commuters, or if it would be limited to only those with physical damage to their property. As a result of the latest finding, during the trial in September, “the judge will assume that whatever is missing from the evidence because of the phones being cleared would have been favorable to the claimants and unfavorable to Skanska,” Kennedy reported.
It’s a relief to see that judges are giving voice to protections for average citizens, because without the authority of the courts and the work of the legal defense team, local residents and businesses would be virtually powerless against the multi-billion dollar company, which has leveraged its role in major state construction projects to escape any tough sanctions or discipline from the state of Florida.
Skanska is expected to seek either total exoneration of financial responsibility or limit that responsibility to the value of the barges, which is about $1.2 million. Pause and think about that for a minute. Think about all the property damaged, all the workers hurt, all the business that dried up in Gulf Breeze, all the commuters who had to spend miles, time and gas money changing their lives and routines because Skanska didn’t follow their own emergency protocols for the hurricane.
Beyond this specific case, the story of Skanska shows how terribly out-sized citizens, cities and even counties can be when faced with a massive corporation that has bad behavior protected and enabled by friendly business relationships with state and federal authorities.
Hurricane Sally was a massive natural disaster, but some of the worst destruction was man-made by a corporate construction giant. Little folks need a chance to defend themselves, and Judge Cannon’s latest ruling helps to level the battlefield.
Source: Pensacola News Journal