Big Dig Victim's Family Settles For $6M

Workers walk from a Big Dig tunnel in Boston Tuesday, July 11, 2006, where cement ceiling panels fell late Monday night from the open area visible in the center of the photo. A woman died and her husband was injured when their car was crushed by the falling panels. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, George Rizer) AP/The Boston Globe, George Rizer

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, an attorney 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 the ceiling with a fast-drying epoxy that was not safe to use for overhead loads.

Powers Fasteners Inc., the Brewster, N.Y.-based company that supplied the epoxy, 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 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."

Powers Fasteners is the only company to face criminal charges in the collapse. It was indicted in August on a manslaughter charge.

Company officials in Boston and New York did not immediately return after-hours phone calls seeking comment.

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 they informed 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. 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 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.
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