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The video that Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s Centex-Rooney Construction Co. shoots each day on the construction site of the Waterford Corporate Park in the Blue Lagoon project in Miami won’t ever compete with Cindy Crawford exercise tapes for sex appeal. On the tapes, men and women in hard hats can be seen in the slow, methodical process of turning 250 acres of mud and sand into a sleek, $110 million corporate office complex with 12 buildings, 2.7 million square feet of space and a four-story parking garage. But Bruce Moldow, Centex’s vice president and general counsel, says entertainment value has nothing to do with the company’s decision to place dozens of video cameras at this and other of its construction sites. Rather, Moldow says, the cameras are there for legal protection. The footage, he says, provides visual evidence that can help the company prevail against workers who file claims for workers’ compensation, developers who challenge the pace or quality of the work and bystanders who claim injury or damage to property due to the construction. In addition, the owners of the office park can tune in from their offices in New York City to monitor the project’s progress. Such video monitoring increasingly is required in contracts for big construction projects. “People are more litigious these days, and we are more insurance cost-conscious,” Moldow says. “Having a visual record is much better than having to rely on witnesses or a written record. You can see exactly what happened where and when.” While construction firms long have used video cameras on their work sites to prevent crimes such as theft and vandalism, it is only within the past several years that they started using cameras to help deter frivolous workers’ compensation and slip-and-fall lawsuits and to settle billing disputes, say construction firm managers and industry experts. But the footage can cut both ways. While it can help debunk workers’ false claims that they were injured on the job or a developer’s claim that the contractor made a serious building mistake, it also can bolster legitimate claims. Still, attorneys who represent workers’ compensation claimants decry the infringement on worker privacy. REMOTE CONTROL SURVEILLANCE Moldow says Centex-Rooney had been using cameras for several years as protection against crime and theft on its construction sites. Then he noticed a general rise in workers’ compensation and slip-and-fall claims in the industry. So Centex decided in the last two years to start using video to protect against such claims. Centex-Rooney usually positions its cameras atop 30-foot poles around the site or on the roof of an adjacent building. Some are set up for close-ups, while others provide an overview of the work site. All cameras are controlled through the company’s computer center at its Fort Lauderdale headquarters. The videotape is archived digitally. The cameras, along with the computers and Internet set used for archiving the footage, are expensive. But Gary Glenewinkel, project manager for Centex-Rooney, says the cost is negligible in relation to the size of the construction projects. Moldow says it’s too early to determine whether the videos actually have reduced claims and saved money. Currently, it’s only the largest construction firms that create video records of their projects. Centex-Rooney, Florida’s largest general contractor and construction manager, is a subsidiary of Centex Construction Group, a division of Dallas-based Centex Corp. Centex is one of the country’s largest home builders and nonbank-affiliated retail mortgage originators. The growing use of video is related to what the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida and the Florida Association of Insurance Agents say is a rise in workers’ compensation and slip-and-fall claims against construction firms over the last decade. As a result of this trend, the trade groups say, firms are looking for ways to reduce their liability exposure. “Using video more aggressively may be the arsenal construction companies need to defend themselves from frivolous suits,” says Scott Brown, communications director for the builders’ group. The practice is gaining growing attention from those involved with workers’ compensation issues. Next week, the Tallahassee-based Florida Workers’ Compensation Institute, whose members include lawyers, doctors and contractors, is holding a four-day seminar in Orlando, and the use of videos on construction sites will be on the agenda. “What video does is keep everyone honest,” says Jim Brainerd, vice president and general counsel for the insurance agents’ association. DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD Robert Rodriguez, a partner at the 22-attorney law firm Miller Kagan & Rodriguez in Coral Gables, Fla., which concentrates on workers’ compensation cases, says the use of video has both helped and hurt his construction clients. Seven months ago, he represented a Miami construction firm putting up an office building in northern Miami-Dade. A worker had filed a workers’ comp lawsuit against the company, alleging he suffered a back injury while on the job. But when Rodriguez reviewed videotape the company had shot of the project, he found footage of the man working normally after the time when he supposedly was supposed suffered the debilitating injury. Using the footage as evidence, Rodriguez says, he was able to defeat the claim. But video footage worked against another of his clients. In a different case, the lawyer for a worker who claimed injury on a work site subpoenaed the construction firm’s videotapes and found visual evidence that the worker had indeed been hurt on the job. “Video can be your best friend or your worst enemy,” Rodriguez says. Video can also provide powerful evidence in construction contract disputes. In September 1995, Sea World, owned by the St. Louis-based Busch Entertainment Corp., was sued in federal court by Weddle Bros. Construction Co. Inc. in Orlando, a national theme park builder, for $2 million in unpaid bills. Weddle had built Sea World’s $14.53 million Wild Arctic attraction. But Sea World claimed that it refused to pay the $2 million because those costs were related to Weddle’s failure to meet its contractual deadlines. Weddle countered that the delays were caused by additional work requested by Sea World and by rainy weather. Sea World has a standard procedure of keeping a video record of its construction projects. When the case went to jury trial, Weddle presented Sea World’s own videotape. The footage showed that prolonged rainfall in the summer of 1994 did play a large role in the delay. While the jury trial was under way, Sea World settled with Weddle for an undisclosed sum. Christopher J. Weiss, a partner in the Orlando, Fla. office of Holland & Knight who represented Weddle Bros., says the video was invaluable to his case. “People say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a videotape is worth a million,” he says with a laugh. While compiling video records of a construction project can be a gamble, the benefits far outweigh the risks, says Anthony J. DiGregorio, who chairs the security architecture council of the Alexandria, Va.-based American Society for Industrial Security. That’s because the tapes can resolve many disputes before they develop into litigation, DiGregorio says. In addition to using video as evidence in legal disputes, construction firms are using tapes to improve their performance, he says. Just as pro athletes review game footage to learn from their mistakes, contractors analyze videos of completed projects to help them organize the work more efficiently in the future. That can help head off spats with developers, DiGregorio says. “Before, we had to document everything in handwritten logbooks,” DiGregorio says. “But with video, it’s like you can step back in time and see what you did, right or wrong.”

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