Saturday, 2:15 PM
$458m Big Dig settlement exempts firms from criminal charges in tunnel collapse
By Globe Staff
State and federal authorities announced a settlement of $458.2 million with the firms that designed and managed the Big Dig to avoid criminal charges and civil liability stemming from leaks, the fatal ceiling collapse, and other flaws that have plagued the project.
Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consortium that oversaw the Big Dig design and construction, will pay $407 million, and 24 other companies will pay about $51 million, US Attorney Michael Sullivan said this afternoon at a press conference.
"Massachusetts Highway and the citizens of Massachusetts entrusted Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff to act as their eyes and ears on the Central Artery Project," Sullivan said. "They grossly failed to meet their obligations and responsibilities to the citizens of Massachusetts and the United States."
Approximately $415 million of the settlement money will be placed in a special trust fund and used to pay for future Big Dig costs and repairs. The settlement allows authorities to seek additional damages from Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff in the event of a major failure in the project in the future causes more than $50 million in damage.
The agreement, which the Globe first reported in today’s paper, will allow Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff to avoid state criminal charges in the Interstate 90 connector tunnel collapse that killed Milena Del Valle. She died on July 10, 2006, after concrete panels weighing 26 tons fell and partially crushed the car she and her husband were riding to Logan Airport.
A lawsuit filed by the family of Del Valle against Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff and other companies is still pending. Brad Henry, one of the lawyers who represents the Del Valle family, told the Globe Tuesday that Bechtel's payment "certainly seems to be a substantial admission of liability.”
State Attorney General Martha Coakley said at the press conference that when she spoke to the Del Valle family this morning they were wanted to make sure that this settlement would make the Big Dig safer.
“We believe and we and hope that we have accomplished something and that no other family will have to go through what the family of Milena Del Valle went through,” Coakley said.
Only one of more than a dozen defendants has settled with the family. In December, Powers Fasteners Inc. of Brewster, N.Y., agreed to pay the family $6 million. Powers, which provided the epoxy blamed in the collapse, is also the only company facing criminal charges after the attorney general's office charged it with one count of involuntary manslaughter in August. If convicted, Powers faces a fine of $1,000. The company, which pleaded not guilty, has denied responsibility for the fatal accident.
Because the maximum penalty for manslaughter is only $1,000, Coakley decided to seek a financial settlement from Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff rather than prosecute, though she held open the possibility of criminal charges if settlement talks broke down, legal sources have previously said.
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