April 26th, 2023, nearly four years after a tragic crane collapse that left a family in pieces, a Dallas jury held Greystar responsible for killing Kiersten Smith.
For the last four years, Greystar has tried to dodge responsibility for the crane collapse and behaved in a manner showing a lack of basic human decency. This verdict allows Michele Smith to know that the people of Dallas valued Kiersten even if Greystar does not value her life.
Many people in Dallas remember seeing the news images of a crane sprawled out on the roof of an apartment building. The apartment complex’s exterior wall was ripped off—showing the inside of people’s homes like a rough-hewn cutaway diagram. That wreckage imprinted itself on a lot of people’s minds that day, but none more than Michelle Williams.
This month, the jury saw the facts explaining why the crane fell and held Greystar accountable for its fly-by-night approach to safety.
What Really Happened That Day?
On June 8, 2019, Kiersten Smith spent time at her Mom’s house. They laughed, ate, and talked about Kiersten’s upcoming wedding. When Kiersten told her Mom “see you later” it was not meant to be a permanent “goodbye.”
The next day a thunderstorm that had been in the forecast for several days blew through Old East Dallas, where Kiersten shared an apartment with Eric Ridenhour, her fiancé. He was in the kitchen making Sunday Brunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup. She was in the living room watching Grey’s Anatomy.
Then, an “ear-splitting” boom shook the building.
When Smith’s fiancé opened his eyes, the air was thick with dust. “It was like you could grab the air,” he said later. He looked up to find daylight. He looked ahead and the living room was gone. Firefighters arrived on the scene and Eric yelled that his fiancé was somewhere in the rubble. Kiersten was retrieved and taken to the hospital where she died.
A crane at the construction site across the street had collapsed on them.
Kiersten was the sole fatality from that day.
About the Dallas Crane Collapse
Michele Williams still grieves for her daughter every day. In the aftermath of this tragedy, she wanted to know why the crane collapsed, who was responsible, and to make sure this never happens again. Greystar gave Michele the runaround.
It became clear that the cause of the crane collapse, the reason for Kiersten’s death—all of these things would need to be forced into the light.
It would take a fight.
So Michelle Williams called Jason Itkin.
The Company Would Not Take Responsibility
Here’s the thing to know about Jason Itkin: when he knows you’ve done something wrong and won’t take responsibility, he’s not the guy you want to be up against. He does not put up with bullies or liars.
The road to trial was long. There were delays, excuses from defense lawyers for the companies and the crane operator, and loopholes exempting one or the other. It didn’t matter. Jason knew what was at stake.
Throughout the entire process, Jason and Michele became close. Michele helped Jason get to know who Kiersten was as a person. Knowing who he was fighting for made Jason work even harder to get Greystar to accept responsibility.
Legal motions and delay tactics did not matter.
Kiersten’s story would be told in trial—Jason was going to make sure of it.
When trial came, the years of preparation and relentless fighting paid off. Greystar eventually admitted that the crane was not properly prepared for the storm. But instead of accepting responsibility, Greystar tried to blame its vendor Bigge Crane.
Jason cut through all of their smoke with the truth: Greystar’s failures killed Kiersten, and the damage left behind will haunt her loved ones for a long, long time. Michelle bravely took the stand to share how the loss of Kiersten has affected her.
"My hope is that y'all [the jury] make them understand Kiersten mattered to me and to so many other people," Michelle said to the jury when asked what she wanted to say.
In the end, they did.
Justice for Kiersten. Justice for Her Family.
After a trial that shined a light on the poor practices and safety policies used by Greystar, the jury handed down a historic $860 million verdict.
"This company flat out refused to take responsibility for this young woman’s death. I’m thankful the people of Dallas helped force them to do so,” Jason said after the jury announced their verdict.
“My heart will always be with Michele after her loss. While we were able to force a company to take responsibility today, it won’t bring Kiersten back."