Four years after John “Jay” Johnson fell to his death through an opening in the Delaware River pier where he was working the night shift as a laborer, his family has reached a $10.5 million out-of-court settlement with the New Jersey company that was in charge of the site.

Johnson, 50, of Wilmington, a husband, father of three, and grandfather, was working apart from other laborers in his fourth day on the job on the evening of Jan. 14, 2016, when he fell through a 5-by-10-foot man-made cutout on the Pier 78 Rehabilitation Project in South Philadelphia.

Opening in Pier 11 through which John "Jay" Johnson fell and then drowned.
Fritz & Bianculli
Opening in Pier 11 through which John "Jay" Johnson fell and then drowned.

After other crew members realized he had not been seen for about an hour, they began calling his cell phone at 7:30 p.m. before spotting his hard hat floating in the river. Failing to find him in 10 feet of water, the workers called 911 and Philadelphia Police Department divers located Johnson’s body at 9:20 p.m. under the pier.

Johnson, a member of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 57, was the third worker since 2012 killed or seriously injured on a job site managed by Agate Construction Co. of Clermont, Cape May County. Michael McQuade was killed in February 2013, and Patrick Montgomery lost most of his left hand in April 2012, said attorney Brian Fritz, who won sealed settlements in those cases and represented Johnson’s family with Kevin Durkan, also of the law firm Fritz & Bianculli.

“Jay was a good man,” Fritz said. “He and every worker deserve a safe work site. This accident could have and should have been prevented. The defendant has a history of allowing poor and unsafe working conditions that have led to other workers being put in harm’s way.”

The settlement reached Thursday with Agate preempted a trial scheduled to begin Feb. 7 and brought a measure of closure to Johnson’s family.

“We hope that no other families know the suffering we have gone through, or the suffering the other prior victims have gone through, too,” said his widow, Kimberly.

Agate was the general contractor on the job, having won the contract from the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority. Johnson was employed by subcontractor Atlantic Concrete of Mount Holly. The settlement money was paid by Agate’s insurance provider, Fritz said.

Calls to Agate’s Center City attorney, John T. Donovan, were not returned.