It’s been 10 years since the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) first hired Figg Bridge Engineers to design a new bridge to span the Indian River Inlet. And, on Oct. 25, DelDOT announced that it will receive a $5.25 million settlement in a lawsuit over allegedly faulty engineering of that project by subcontractor MACTEC Engineering & Consulting.
Figg hired MACTEC to perform geotechnical analysis before construction but, according to DelDOT, MACTEC “failed to account for the nature and extent of settlement of soil under the earthen roadway embankments constructed as roadway approached over the inlet.” The suit further alleged that MACTEC provided erroneous information regarding soil settlement to DelDOT.
Embankments leading to the bridge were constructed in 2006, but by 2007, the walls were seen to be bulging and tilting, due to excessive soil settlement. In January of 2011, after the embankments were dismantled, DelDOT filed a lawsuit against the contractors, seeking $19.6 million in reparations.
With a new design-build company hired by DelDOT to finish the project and changes to the design, the current bridge opened to traffic in January of 2012.
According to Geoff Sundstrom, DelDOT’s director of public affairs, the actual agreement shows that Figg put up $250,000 for the settlement, and MACTEC’s successor (international engineering and project managing company AMEC, which had purchased the U.S.-based MACTEC in May of 2011) put up the remaining $5 million.
The settlement arose out of voluntary mediation among the parties. Both MACTEC and Figg denied responsibility. According to a DelDOT press release, “While DelDOT, MACTEC and Figg all had highly regarded experts prepared to testify in support of their claims and defenses, the uncertainties of litigation led to the compromise reached to resolve the litigation.”
Without the voluntary settlement, the case was slated for a May 2014 trial by jury.
“This settlement allows DelDOT to receive more than $5 million for Delaware’s taxpayers now, while avoiding the burdens and uncertainty of a lengthy trial involving complex geotechnical engineering issues next spring,” DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt stated.
“This was a challenging case with strengths and weaknesses on all sides. I believe the settlement provides a reasonable resolution to this matter, and I look forward to applying the proceeds to help meet Delaware’s transportation needs.”
Under a non-disparagement clause in the settlement agreement, DelDOT officials would not elaborate on the strengths or weakness of either side’s case. DelDOT had retained outside council, which was overseen by DelDOT’s deputy attorneys-general
The settlement funding will be targeted at specific kinds of transportation expenses for the State.
“Because federal funds were used to engineer and construct the original embankments that were later torn down, the Federal Highway Administration requires that money recovered as part of the lawsuit be used to pay for other federally-funded projects in Delaware,” Sundstrom told the Coastal Point.