The family of a Monmouth man crushed to death by rebar in 2014 is suing Gagne Concrete Blocks, Inc., of Belgrade, seeking punitive and compensatory damages.

Philip M. Coward, 30, died May 21, 2014, at the site of Mid-Maine Foundations, Inc., on Howard Road in Monmouth.

At the time, Monmouth Police Chief Kevin Mulherin said Coward was helping unload a delivery from Gagne & Sons when the accident occurred around 10:45 a.m. that day. The forks on the forklift somehow fell forward, causing the load of rebar — steel bars used to reinforce concrete — to shift and fall off the forks and onto Coward, essentially crushing him, Mulherin said.

Coward’s father and step-mother, Thomas and Lisa Coward, owners of Mid-Maine Foundations, Inc., were at the scene at the time, and the lawsuit filed in Kennebec County Superior Court says, “Thomas Coward attempted to save his son but the injuries were too severe.”

Attorney Jason Dionne filed the lawsuit, which names as plaintiffs Thomas Coward as personal representative of Philip Coward’s estate, plus Thomas and Lisa Coward in their own right.

It says that Gagne’s “employees were unloading the rebar from the truck with a fork lift owned and/or maintained by (Gagne). Due to negligence of the defendant and/or its employees, the forklift failed to maintain the load of rebar and the entire load fell on Philip Coward, crushing him.”

In a response to the lawsuit claims, attorney J. William Druary, representing Gagne & Son Concrete Blocks, Inc., denies the accusations of negligence, wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Also, the response lists defenses in the forms of comparative negligence, failure to mitigate damages and “credit for advance payments made to or on behalf of plaintiff(s), if any.”

On Wednesday, Dionne said he was not aware of any money that had been paid so far, and Druary said via email that nothing had been paid, but it was standard to include such language to make sure that defense is not waived.

“My client and I view this as a tragic accident,” Druary also said. “However, the mere fact that an accident like this occurred doesn’t equate to legal responsibility. The plaintiffs have to prove their allegations and will also need to respond to our defense that the decedent bears responsibility for his role in this accident.”

He also said no one at Gagne could comment because of the pending litigation.

Thomas Coward did not return a message left with an employee at his business seeking his comments.

The firm of Gagne & Sons, Inc., was penalized by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in connection with the fatality.

The Belgrade firm was cited by OSHA on Aug. 8, 2014, for three violations categorized as “serious” in connection with the fatal accident:

• “An evaluation of each powered industrial truck operator’s performance was not being conducted at least once every three years.”

• “The employer did not have a written certification for each operator indicating that they had been trained and evaluated as required.”

• “Industrial trucks were not examined (daily) before being placed in service.” That violation was corrected during the inspection period, according to the record.

The initial citation indicated the government sought a total of $9,800 in penalties as well as corrective action. Records show the money was paid.

“The OSHA payment was routed through me and was made just to close out the investigation without any admission of fault or liability,” Druary said.

At the time of the accident, Karen Billups, then-area supervisor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s office in Augusta, said the fact that Philip Coward was a family member rather than employee would alter the dynamic of that investigation slightly. She said if violations were uncovered, potential penalties would be limited to Gagne & Sons, the company delivering the material.

“It’s not a employer-employee relationship,” Billups said. “Of course we’re not going to go back on the family.”

Philip Coward’s obituary listed him as a father of two and said he had worked as a foreman at Maine State Foundations, LLC.