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Mass. will sue companies over Big Dig problems

The state attorney general said Monday that he will sue the companies that worked on a Big Dig highway tunnel, claiming their negligence led to the ceiling collapse that killed a woman in July.

Attorney General Tom Reilly said he would seek unspecified damages for repairs, loss of tunnel use and toll revenue, and other economic factors in a lawsuit to be filed today in Suffolk Superior Court.

Reilly said that 15 firms involved in the management, design, construction or oversight of the Interstate 90 tunnel would be named in the negligence lawsuit, but that only one - project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff - would face the more serious claim of gross negligence.

The firm knew early on about problems with the epoxy bolt system used to secure 4,500-pound concrete ceiling panels and had evidence of bolts slipping or failing but still turned over the tunnel to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority in 2003 without warning of the "potentially dangerous situation," Reilly said.

"The clock was ticking. The fuse was lit. It was just a matter of time until tragedy occurred," Reilly said, emphasizing the criminal investigation was ongoing.

Four of the concrete panels fell on a car in which Milena Del Valle, a 39-year-old from Boston, was a passenger July 10. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August against many of the same companies, as well as the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the agency that oversees the $14.6-billion highway project, the most expensive in U.S. history.

Evidence is now being presented to a grand jury that will decide whether criminal charges as severe as manslaughter will be brought, Reilly said.

Andy Paven, a spokesman for Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, said the company would not comment on Reilly's lawsuit. "We have always said we will stand behind our work," Paven said.

Reilly, who opted not to seek re-election to mount a failed run for governor, said he chose to file the lawsuit now to avoid a question of statute of limitations. Under state law, lawsuits over defective construction usually must be filed within six years of completion, and a ramp that is part of the project in question was completed Nov. 29, 2000.

The Big Dig replaced the old elevated Central Artery, which ran through the heart of Boston, with a series of tunnels, ramps and bridges. The project has been plagued by leaks, falling debris, delays and other problems linked to faulty construction.