The family of the man who died when a trench collapsed on him in April is suing the three companies involved in that project.
That news came as KRIS 6 News also learned of a penalty against one of those companies from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for exposing workers to cave-in hazards at that worksite.
Jasson Josue Villalobos Zuniga was working on a project near Corpus Christi's Buccaneer Stadium the day he died. According to the lawsuit filed, he was "directed to enter the unstable and unsafe 10-foot trench" in order to measure and create room for a trench box, a protective system required by OSHA designed to keep people safe when working in trenches deeper than 5 feet.
The lawsuit alleges that the 21-year-old would have survived if he had been in a trench box.
Villalobos' fate is one the lawsuit said is enabled by the Honduran national's immigrant status.
"He was the kind of person who sometimes gets employed for these types of jobs because nobody else wants to do it," it states. "And they're not given a voice, because they fear that if they do complain about something they're going to get fired. So if they tell him to go near that hole, he goes near that hole."
The suit filed in August doesn’t seek a specific amount of damages, but one of the attorneys who filed it says they should at least cover the salary Villalobos would have earned over his lifetime had he not died in the April 5 collapse.
Simon Purnell, of the Corpus Christi law firm Griffin Purnell LLC, said Villalobos' family also deserves money for his suffering from the moment the walls of the trench caved-in on him until he died.
“If you look around the country, (juries) are coming back with multiple millions of dollars in damages based off of just how horrible it is to go through that experience,” Purnell said.
The lawsuit also seeks damages for the emotional suffering of Villalobos' mother — and his wife, who was pregnant when he died.
“His wife had the baby in August,” Purnell said. "That child is never going to meet Jasson. His mother is not going to be able to basically live into the later years of her life with her son around her.”
Purnell is also hopeful for punitive damages.
He believes financially punishing the three companies involved in the trench project will force those businesses to make safety improvements all while providing more compensation to Villalobos' family.
“You’ve got the altruistic side which is hopefully correcting bad conduct,” Purnell said. "And then you’ve got simply trying to put the family back where they were, which in our world, the only thing we’ve got is money.”
Attorneys for the three companies are remaining quiet about the lawsuit.
AT&T paid for the trench work as part of a telecommunications project, but attorney Chad Gisler said that he doesn’t “comment on pending litigation.”
Attorney Joseph Heard for the project’s contractor, ADB Companies out of Missouri, said “no comment” when asked about the lawsuit.
Attorney Molly Pela for the project’s subcontractor, S.S. Construction and Drilling out of Houston, didn’t return a call nor an email seeking comment.
S.S. Construction was Villalobos' direct employer, and in July, OSHA assessed a $4,096 penalty against the company.
The document notifying the company about the fine states, “SS Construction employees were exposed to cave-in and engulfment hazards while working from the top edge of the trench.”
Purnell says you’ll find similar language in the lawsuit.
“That’s really at the end of the day our allegation,” he said "So it’s consistent with what we’ve been accusing them of all along.”
There’s a trial date set for October 2022 for the lawsuit, but Purnell says he wouldn’t be surprised if the two sides settled before then.
Whether from a settlement or a jury’s verdict, he hopes the amount of damages secured for Villalobos' family can in some small way make up for the fate he suffered.
"You know, I have a 21-year-old son, and it would absolutely gut me if I'd known that he'd gone through that," Purnell said. "What’s the value of that? I don’t know."