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Family Settles for $28M in Boston Tunnel Death Lawsuit

Fri October 10, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Denise Lavoie

BOSTON (AP) The family of a woman killed when the ceiling of a downtown Boston tunnel collapsed has settled a wrongful death lawsuit for more than $28 million, attorneys told The Associated Press.

The settlement was announced Sept. 30 by attorneys for the husband and three adult children of Milena Del Valle, a Costa Rican woman who lived in Boston and who was killed in July 2006 when part of a tunnel ceiling collapsed on her car.

The main defendants in the lawsuit included companies that worked on a massive construction project in downtown Boston called the Big Dig — Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, Modern Continental Co., Gannett Fleming Inc. — and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

Brad Henry, an attorney for Del Valle’s children, said the settlement resolves claims against all 15 defendants. He said the companies do not admit to liability in the settlement. Henry said he could not provide a breakdown of how much each defendant will pay.

The overall figure includes earlier settlements by Powers Fasteners Inc. for $6 million and bolt distributor Newman Associates for $4 million.

Del Valle was fatally crushed under 26 tons of concrete when ceiling panels collapsed and fell on the car she was riding in with her husband, Angel Del Valle.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a 2007 report that the wrong type of epoxy was used. The report spread blame among Big Dig project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, construction contractor Modern Continental, designer Gannett Fleming and Powers Fasteners, the firm that supplied the epoxy.

Gannett Fleming and BPP were criticized for failing to identify potential creep in the epoxy bolts. Modern Continental and BPP were faulted for failing to monitor the bolts after several of them began to creep out of the ceiling in 1999.

Del Valle’s husband, Angel, who escaped with minor injuries, is hopeful that the investigation into the tunnel collapse and the settlement will help prevent a similar tragedy.

“Life will never be the same, but at least he can go on,’’ said Jeffrey Denner, one of his attorneys.

Del Valle’s daughter, Raquel Ibarra Mora issued a statement from Costa Rica on behalf of herself and her brothers, Caled and Jeremy Ibarra saying the settlement process allowed them to see those who were responsible for the collapse held accountable.

“Our hearts still ache for our mother, and always will, but we find peace in knowing she is with God, and that we have honored her life and her memory by seeking the truth,’’ Mora said through her attorney.

“The tunnel collapse in 2006 was the result of a colossal failure of oversight by past administrations,’’ the Turnpike Authority said in a statement. “Since taking control of the Big Dig last year, we have completed a detailed stem-to-stern review of the project as well created an inspection program to ensure that tragic night never happens again. We hope closure has come to the Del Valle family.’’

Andrew Paven, a spokesman for Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, said he had no immediate comment on the settlement. Representatives of Gannett Fleming and Modern Continental did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

“It’s very clear that there was a remarkable lack of oversight and there was some terrible engineering,’’ Henry said. “There is plenty of blame to go around, but as the management consultant, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff was in the best position to correct problems that had started with the design and continued through the construction.’’

The $15 billion Big Dig, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history, replaced an elevated highway in the heart of Boston with a series of tunnels, ramps and bridges. The project has been plagued by cost overruns, leaks, falling debris, and other problems linked to faulty construction. Del Valle’s death prompted tunnel and road closures and sparked a public furor.

In January, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff and several smaller companies reached a $458 settlement with the state to avoid criminal charges. Powers Fasteners, which said it could not afford to make a similar settlement with the state, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter.

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