Saturday, May 23, 2015

Yeager Airport (KCRW) sues 20 companies over landslide

Yeager Airport is suing 20 companies involved with the design and construction of its runway extension project, which collapsed in a massive landslide in March, alleging negligence and breach of contract and seeking to recover millions of dollars in compensation and punitive damages.

The airport filed suit Friday against Triad Engineering, the firm that designed the man-made hillside that supported the runway extension, and Cast & Baker, the contractor that led construction on the project.

The airport also sued a Pennsylvania-based blasting company, a Dunbar-based paving company, the companies that designed and installed the EMAS blocks used on the runway extension, the company that makes the geo-synthetic mesh that held the hillside together and a Pennsylvania-based quality-control company that also were involved in the project.

Also included in the lawsuit are the airport’s two insurance companies, AIG Aerospace and New Hampshire Insurance Co., and the insurers of every company involved with the runway extension project.

The airport alleges that the runway extension and the man-made hillside that supported it were improperly designed, improperly tested, not properly inspected and not properly monitored.

After years of slight shifts, the hillside, which was completed in 2007, collapsed in March, destroying homes and a church on Keystone Drive, in Charleston, and forcing the evacuation of more than 100 people.

“The event in question is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence,” Yeager’s attorneys write in the lawsuit, filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court. “The work and services provided by defendants was not performed with ordinary skill, care or diligence.”

The airport hired lawyers from three local firms, Scott Segal, Timothy Bailey and Anthony Majestro, to file the lawsuit jointly on its behalf.

The lawsuit says airport personnel noticed separation in the EMAS blocks on July 28, 2013, although there were related problems going back to at least 2010. The airport says it immediately contacted Triad and Cast after noticing the separation, but the two firms said they did not think there was a problem.

“In fact, defendant Triad informed the [Airport] Authority that settlement of as much as 24 inches was within normal range,” the lawsuit states.

As the blocks continued to separate, the airport and Triad each conducted monitoring and surveying.

The airport held an emergency board meeting on March 11, the day before the slide, at which, the lawsuit alleges, a Triad representative said the chances of a hillside collapse were “very slight.”

“Less than 24 hours after being told the chances of a catastrophic failure were slight, the Runway 5 EMAS . . . catastrophically failed, sending hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of fill and other material cascading down,” the lawsuit states. “The damages suffered by the residents of Keystone Drive and the Authority total in the millions of dollars.”

Majestro said attorneys filed the lawsuit Friday because a law that takes effect Tuesday will make it more difficult for plaintiffs to collect damages when some liable defendants don’t have the ability to pay.

“The airport is anxious to have this dispute resolved because they want the runway fixed and the landowners below them, whose properties were destroyed, taken care of,” Majestro said.

Circuit clerks around the state were sent a letter early Friday warning them about the possibility of an unusually large number of filings throughout the day because of the new law (HB2002).

Matt Arrowood, director of circuit clerk services for the West Virginia Supreme Court, wrote the letter after attorneys raised concerns about possible long lines at the time courthouses are set to close.

“Administrative Director of the Courts Steve Canterbury has advised that all people who wish to file and who are in line at the close of business at your office should be considered as having filed on Friday in a timely manner — even if they have not reached your counter by the end of your business day,” Arrowood wrote.

Majestro, who also is president of the West Virginia Association of Justice, spoke out against changing the law during the legislative session.

“In my opinion, it doesn’t apply to conduct that occurred prior to Tuesday,” he said. “However, if you’ve got a case ready to file, we’ve advised attorneys to go ahead and file it. That way they don’t have to worry about that argument.”

The lawsuit filed by Yeager has been assigned to Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman.

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