Massachusetts Sues for Big Dig Negligence

On July 10 part of the ceiling of the tunnel connecting I-90 and Logan Airport collapsed and killed Milena del Valle, who was driving beneath. The ceiling collapse and del Valle’s death caused the tunnel to be closed for months for repairs and provoked furious finger-pointing among state officials and the Big Dig’s managers, contractors, and designers. Two months ago a grand jury convened to investigate possible criminal charges, something I wrote about in Big Dig, Big Liability? Nothing has come yet from the grand jury.

The state is not resting, however. The Boston Globe reported this morning that outgoing Attorney General Tom Reilly will file a lawsuit today against Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the joint-venture manager of the Big Dig, Bechtel Corp. and Parsons, Brinckerhoff individually, Modern Continental Construction Co. and Gannett Fleming, the builder and designer, respectively, of the I-90 connector tunnel ceiling, and Sika Corp., Powers Fasteners, and Newman, Renner, Colony Inc., the manufacturer, wholesaler, and distributor, respectively, of the epoxy used to fasten the ceiling’s connector bolts. The state seeks undetermined damages for gross negligence, negligence, and breach of contract. Central to the state’s claim are the same allegations noted in the earlier post: that (1) the ceiling was originally designed to require more anchor bolts, (2) managers modified the original design because they believed “a 2 bolt anchor plate would be sufficient” to support the multi-ton concrete panels, (3) managers tested the bolts’ strength using standards less rigorous than industry rules-of-thumb, (4) some bolts passed these tests but failed when subjected to their working loads, and (5) managers knew of such failures but didn’t either redesign the ceiling’s anchoring system or more carefully supervise its installation could establish the basis for criminal culpability. The named defendants represent every step in the ceiling’s progress from design through constructionexcept, it is interesting to note, for those involved in manufacture and distribution of the connector bolts.

Reilly is a lame-duck and leaving office soon, having run unsuccessfully for governor this fall. The Globe reported that Reilly filed the suit now, instead of handing it off to incoming attorney general Martha Coakley, in part to beat a six-year statute of limitations applicable to litigation for defective construction and in part to cap the work of staff assigned to investigate the claims. Reilly has reportedly briefed Coakley on the lawsuit.

Scott Allen & Sean P. Murphy, AG, alleging negligence, will sue in tunnel cave-in, The Boston Globe, 27-Nov-06, p. 1

3 Replies to “Massachusetts Sues for Big Dig Negligence”

  1. chrislee

    As a resident of Mass for the pass 20 years I am happy to hear that the city is finally moving after those that were liable for the accident on I-90.

    I must admit that I was horrified when I heard what happened to that lady. I couldn’t believe that a project that already has cost billions is beginning to fall apart before its even finished!

    I believe that those listed as liable should be responsible for what happened. They knew that their anchoring system for the concrete slabs was not as secure as originally planned. There is no doubt in my mind that these workers knew that it was possible that the anchors were not strong enough.

    Because these workers had knowledge that the anchors might not hold they should have never even risked using the cheaper anchor.

    This kind of negligence is very upsetting. Not only was a life lost but the city now is pushed back once again on this massive project and it makes people wonder whether the rest of the project is safe or not.

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