Big Dig Victim’s Family Agrees to $6M Settlement with N.Y. Epoxy Maker

December 27, 2007

The family of a woman who was killed in the Big Dig tunnel collapse in Boston has agreed to a $6 million out-of-court settlement with the company that supplied the epoxy blamed for causing 26 tons of concrete ceiling panels to come crashing down on her car.

Milena Del Valle, 39, was killed on 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 the ceiling using a fast-drying epoxy that was not safe to use for overhead loads.

Powers Fasteners Inc., a Brewster, N.Y. firm that supplied the epoxy used in the project, has agreed to pay Del Valle’s family $6 million to settle a lawsuit the family filed in August 2006, said attorney Raipher Pellegrino, who represented the widower.

The company, one of 15 Big Dig contractors and agencies sued by the Del Valle family, did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement that capped weeks of confidential 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,” Pellegrino said. “There’s a recognition that there is a very unfortunate situation that occurred.”

“We are pleased that it is resolved because it allows the healing process to begin with the family,” Pellegrino said.

Powers Fasteners Inc. is the only entity to be charged criminally in the case. The company was indicted on a manslaughter charge in August.

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. Powers officials insist they informed state highway department engineers overseeing the project that the fast-set epoxy was intended only for “short term loading.” The company said it filled an order for its Standard Set epoxy for use in the ceiling and never knew that its fast-set epoxy was used.

Powers is the first company to settle with the Del Valle family. Negotiations with other contractors named as defendants in the Del Valle family’s lawsuit have failed to produce a settlement.

Also named in the lawsuit were: Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, project managers of the Big Dig; Modern Continental Construction Co., the company that built the I-90 connector ceiling; and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which oversaw the project.

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.”

The court is looking at scheduling the trial toward the end of next year, Pellegrino.

“We are grateful that the Powers family company has done the right thing,” the victim’s daughter, Raquel Ibarra Mora and the widower in a joint statement. “We hope that Bechtel and the other companies now show the same strength of character.”

Del Valle’s death prompted tunnel and road closures and sparked 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.

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