The widow of a welder killed when a stairwell of a Clearwater parking garage collapsed on him last year has settled a lawsuit against the owner of the building and an affiliated real estate company.
Alexis Klock filed the wrongful death complaint against Plymouth Plaza and ZFC Real Estate in February, claiming the structure was in a “dangerous and hazardous state” when her 23-year-old husband Mitchel Klock showed up to work on it. The stairwell collapsed on Klock on Dec. 20, and crews recovered his body two days later.
The parties have “amicably settled” the lawsuit, according to a July 8 court filing. Details on the settlement were not included in court documents. The lawsuit was filed in Palm Beach County, where the companies are based.
The lawsuit settlement prohibits the parties from speaking publicly about its terms, said Alexis Klock’s attorney William Mulligan.
“Nothing is going to bring back Mitchel,” said Mulligan, a partner with South Florida firm Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, which has represented clients in prominent fatal collapse cases including last year’s Champlain Towers South condo collapse in Surfside. “It does not alleviate the pain and the suffering that his wife and his father are going through every day.”
Jason Villares, an attorney representing Plymouth Plaza and ZFC Real Estate, and Zev Freidus, the registered agent for both companies, declined to comment for this story.
Mulligan said his client stands by the allegations made in the suit about the five-story garage, which provides parking for Plymouth Plaza, an office building at 26750 U.S. 19 N.
The lawsuit claimed the garage’s “concrete, structural integrity, pre-cast members and other foundational materials, especially around the stairwells, were in a hazardous and vulnerable condition and required remediation to prevent a catastrophic event from occurring.”
Plymouth and ZFC Real Estate “deliberately concealed, withheld and misrepresented the danger presented by the dilapidated and hazardous garage, which prevented Mitchel Klock from exercising informed judgment about whether to perform work on the garage,” the complaint said.
Mitchel Klock, who owned a small company called M. Klock Welding Services, didn’t know the full extent of the danger he was put in by taking the job, Mulligan said.
“Regardless whether anyone wants to say that he shouldn’t have cut this or shouldn’t have done that, he should have never been there that day working on the project,” Mulligan said.
Mulligan said Alexis Klock has also reached a settlement with Forgue General Contracting of Lakeland, which hired Klock’s company for the job but was not a respondent in the lawsuit. Mulligan said he could not share details of that settlement, either.
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Two voicemail messages left for Forgue General Contracting were not returned this week.
Meantime, records show federal inspectors recently issued two citations against Mitchel Klock’s company after the collapse.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, investigated the collapse and in June issued two citations to M. Klock Welding Services. The company failed to provide a place of employment that was “free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees,” according to a citation issued June 16.
Employees “were exposed to struck-by and caught-between hazards while working underneath concrete stairwell sections to cut and grind the structural steel plates that held the concrete stairwell sections in place,” the citation summary states.
OSHA fined Klock’s company $14,502, but Eric Lucero, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor, said this week that the citations were deleted “as the result of an informal settlement conference” and did not have to be paid. Lucero noted Klock’s company was dissolved after his death.
OSHA’s investigation is complete, and no action is pending against any other parties including Forgue, Lucero said.
State records show Alexis Klock, who’d married Mitchel just 11 months before the collapse, dissolved the company on July 7, stating in a filing that it was “out of business due to death.”
In April, in announcing that no criminal charges were expected in the case, Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter pointed the finger more at Forgue than Klock.
Slaughter said investigators saw “some very careless acts” and that Forgue should have taken some additional safety measures, such as better directing Klock about what the job required and shoring up the staircase while the work was underway. But Slaughter said the case did not rise to the level of a crime such as manslaughter by culpable negligence, which the law defines in part by “a reckless disregard of human life.”
Demorris Matthews, an employee and friend of Klock’s, told police that just before the collapse, they were removing and replacing rusted brackets that attach the stairs to the landing of the parking garage. They started from the top floor and worked their way down.
Matthews said Klock was on the bottom floor stairwell cutting the last of four brackets that needed to be replaced and Matthews was grinding and cleaning the area where the brackets had been cut.
Then the stairwell suddenly collapsed, Matthews said.
“We believe, based on the work that was being done on (the) metal brackets, that that was a contributing cause to it,” Slaughter said in April. “And we don’t believe that Mitchel would have been responsible for having to know what the impact of those brackets were.”
The day after the collapse, the Tampa Bay Times reported how city records revealed that repairs on the stairwell began before an application for the work was submitted and months after the city of Clearwater determined the garage was potentially unsafe, requiring inspection by a structural engineer.
Plymouth Plaza LLC did not submit the required engineering report before the repairs began. A Plymouth official told investigators that the engineering report was obtained before the work began and that it stated there were “no current life safety issues.” After receiving the report, Plymouth hired Forgue General Contracting to make the needed repairs.