In my previous post on this subject, I wrote of a case now pending in Middlesex Superior Court against Wal-Mart Corp., following the electrocution death of a laborer at its Walpole, Massachusetts store. In my previous post, I spoke briefly about the tangled web of business entities that Wal-Mart apparently used in this project, and in almost all its construction and renovation projects. I’ll examine that more at length here.
According to published reports, Walmart hired a general contractor by the name of Kekoka Construction to oversee the renovation project at its Walpole store. Kekoka Construction is based in Texas. Kekoka Construction hired a Massachusetts-based construction supervisor and apparently paid him $11,000.00 to “pull” (obtain) a building permit from the Town of Walpole, after which he did almost nothing in terms of construction site supervision of the project. This practice is otherwise referred to as hiring a “straw”, whose sole function is to do something formal or official like pulling a building permit, and then disappear from view. Walmart’s general contractor, Kekoka Construction, then apparently hired an electrical subcontractor, a company named T&M Electrical of Arkansas. T&M Electrical, then apparently hired its own “straw”, a Connecticut man with a Massachusetts’ electrician’s license, to pull electrical work permits from the Town of Walpole. Stare investigators have reportedly concluded that this man, who as the person obtaining the electrical permits was responsible for overseeing the actual electrical work, was never seen at the worksite. Mr. Santos was hired along with other workers by another subcontractor, Italo Masonry.
Sound confusing enough yet? It gets even more so: It turns out that Walmart’s general contractor, Kekoka Construction, was formed about ten years ago by Walmart solely for the purpose of supervising construction at Walmart sites. In other words, Kekoka Construction is a creation of Walmart; an “arm” of it. Legally speaking, this is referred to as a “corporate alter ego.” Largely for this reason, the attorney representing the family of the victim who was killed at the Walpole site, is not only suing the electrical subcontractor and various related parties, but is also suing Walmart directly. As a Boston, Massachusetts construction site accident attorney, I welcome this approach. Walmart was apparently at the top of this pyramid, and though they have apparently taken deft steps to separate Kekoka Construction from itself in a formal, technical sense, as a Dedham, Massachusetts accident attorney, I think a strong legal argument can be made here that the two companies were essentially one for the purposes of this case. Achieving this legal objective in litigation is called “piercing the corporate veil,” and with good reason: Huge corporations like Wal-Mart try to hide their real actions all the time by setting up other corporate entities to carry out business objectives that for various legal and public relations reasons they themselves don’t want to be “out in front” on. I wish the attorney for Mr. Santos’ family the best of luck in this fight. It won’t be an easy one, but corporations like Wal-Mart – and the other defendants involved as well – need to be made to pay for the dangerous and unethical games that were apparently played here.