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Contractors sued over collapse of Portales De Vero parking lot


A massive hole left behind after a 50,000-pound truck-mounted crane collapsed the parking lot of an Ocean Drive building last year required more than $33,000 in repairs. Now, the insurance company for Portales De Vero wants the contractors involved to pay up.

Frontline Insurance Unlimited filed a civil negligence complaint with the 19th Judicial Circuit in Indian River County, arguing liability for the accident rests with Jimmy’s A/C and Refrigeration and Beyel Brothers Crane and Rigging of South Florida. 

Portales De Vero, a white two-story commercial complex with a large breezeway and popular dining options located at the intersection of Ocean Drive and Flamevine Lane, retained Jimmy’s A/C to install a 4,000-pound air conditioning unit on April 25, the lawsuit contends.

The Vero Beach company then subcontracted Cocoa-based Beyel Brothers to lift the two-ton machine onto the roof. But the air conditioner hardly got off the ground before a frightening accident ensued, according to the complaint drafted by attorneys Phillip Sheehe and Karen Fultz on behalf of Frontline and Portales De Vero.

The truck-mounted crane was positioned on the building’s south side in a small parking lot. Underneath the asphalt was a long-forgotten concrete tank, a large cistern that measured 47 feet wide, 19 feet long and 5 feet deep.

The underground chamber, once part of a drainage system used to collect stormwater run-off for irrigation purposes, had been covered over years before and since forgotten. City plans indicate the cistern was privately installed by the property owners in 1979.

When crane operators attempted to lift the two-ton air conditioner, the truck broke through the asphalt and top of the cistern with a loud crash, tipping over and leaving behind a 20-foot by 30-foot hole, court documents say.

Spectators, who snapped cellphone photos of what they thought was a sinkhole collapse, said they heard a big boom before the truck dropped into the earth. No cars were parked on the lot and the crane operator was able to extricate himself from the partially submerged vehicle.

An investigation done by Frontline engineers revealed the truck-mounted crane was inappropriately parked, alleges Fultz, who represents the insurance company.

The contractors did not perform an adequate inspection of the parking lot before starting the job, an industry standard when using this type of heavy equipment, she said. They failed to stabilize the 50,000-pound crane before attempting to lift the air conditioner.

Further, there were latches protruding from the ground indicating an opening. Physical inspection of the lot and examination of municipal records would have indicated there was something there that would have not have been able to withstand the weight of the equipment, according to Fultz.

Frontline paid Portales De Vero $33,500 to cover the damage, but Sheehe and Fultz argue Jimmy’s A/C and Beyel Brothers should bear the ultimate burden.

A receptionist at Jimmy’s A/C said last week the company declined to comment. Its attorney, Roland Bernal of Bernal & Bernal in Port St. Lucie, also would not speak in the early stages of the litigation.

Beyer Brothers Crane and Rigging of South Florida did not respond to a request for information. Its Boca Raton attorney, Christopher Burrows, did not return a call seeking comment.

Records show both contractors asked the court for additional time to respond to the complaint.