By Rodrique Ngowi
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
BOSTON -- The family of a woman killed when the ceiling of a Big Dig tunnel collapsed on her car last year has agreed to a $6 million settlement with the company that supplied the epoxy blamed for the accident, a lawyer said Monday.
Milena Del Valle, 39, was killed July 10, 2006, as she and her husband drove through an Interstate 90 connector tunnel. Her husband, Angel Del Valle, escaped with minor injuries.
Investigators determined that the ceiling collapsed because workers secured it with a fast-drying epoxy that was not safe to use for overhead loads.
Powers Fasteners, a Brewster, N.Y., company that supplied the epoxy, has agreed to pay Del Valle's family $6 million to settle a lawsuit that the family filed in August 2006, said lawyer Raipher Pellegrino, who represented the widower.
The company, one of 15 Big Dig contractors and agencies sued by Del Valle's family, did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement, which capped weeks of negotiations, Pellegrino said.
"Both the widower and the children were pleased that they showed some character, stepped up to the table, answered questions and resolved the situation by settlement," he said. "We are pleased that it is resolved because it allows the healing process to begin with the family."
Company officials in Boston and New York did not immediately return after-hours phone calls seeking comment.
Powers Fasteners is the only company to face criminal charges in the case. It was indicted in August on a manslaughter charge.
Prosecutors accuse Powers of failing to warn Big Dig contractors that its fast-drying epoxy glue was unsafe to use to suspend heavy ceiling panels and had a tendency to slowly pull away over time.
Company officials insist that they informed state highway department engineers overseeing the project that the epoxy was intended only for "short-term loading." The company said it filled an order for its standard-set epoxy for the ceiling and never knew that its fast-set epoxy was used.
Powers is the first company to settle with the Del Valle family. Also named in the lawsuit are project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff; Modern Continental Construction Co., the company that built the I-90 connector ceiling; and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversaw the project.
"We are grateful that the Powers family company has done the right thing," Del Valle's family said in a statement. "We hope that Bechtel and the other companies now show the same strength of character."
The lawsuit claims that tunnel contractors, subcontractors and others involved in the project were "negligent, grossly negligent and/or reckless in selecting and installing more than 1,500 unsafe and defective bolts in the tunnel project."
Del Valle's death led to tunnel and road closures and caused a public furor over the Big Dig project, which has been plagued by leaks, falling debris, delays and other problems linked to faulty construction.
The Big Dig, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history, buried the old elevated Central Artery with a series of tunnels, ramps and bridges.