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Minor Errors Cause Major Problems

Boston’s Big Dig is a decades-long multi-billion dollar construction project creating among other things a series of tunnels to reroute traffic through a Central Artery Tunnel. Such a massive construction effort is not without risks, or mistakes. In July 2006, a concrete ceiling panel in the I-90 Connector Tunnel collapsed onto a vehicle, killing one of the occupants and injuring the other. After a year-long investigation into the death, Massachusetts issued a criminal indictment against epoxy maker Powers Fasteners, Inc., charging the company with one count of involuntary manslaughter.

The basis for the criminal charge was that the epoxy which was used, Power-Fast Fast Set epoxy, was unsuitable for sustained loads due to its susceptibility to creep, whereby the anchors would pull away from the ceiling over time. The indictment alleged that Powers knew from its own testing that its Fast Set product was unsuitable for sustained loads but did not make this fact known to consumers. Moreover, the indictment alleged that Power knew its Fast Set epoxy was being used for a sustained overhead load in the ceiling tunnel yet did not take any steps to warn the project managers against use of its product for that application.

While a corporation convicted of involuntary manslaughter may only be hit with a $1,000 fine under outdated Massachusetts law, establishing criminal liability can an important factor in establishing civil liability as well. In fact, Powers Fasteners eventually settled by agreeing to pay a $16 million civil damage award in exchange for a dismissal of charges.

In addition to the human tragedy caused by wrong epoxy, this mistake cost untold millions of dollars to the project in cleanup, repair and delay. Power Fasteners had another product that was not of the fast set variety which may have been suitable. Yet even with a suitable product, mixing and applying epoxy correctly lies somewhere between an art and a science. Construction projects are complicated, and even a minor error can cause major problems.

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