Six subcontractors have been sued by the developer of a six-story parking garage in Jacksonville, Fla., that collapsed in December 2007 , killing one worker and injuring 23 others. Atlanta-based developer Berkman Plaza 2 LLC filed the suit Jan. 12 in circuit court in Duval County, Fla., seeking damages "well in excess of" $36 million and demanding a jury trial.

Two-thirds of Berkman Plaza 2 garage collapsed as the sixth floor slab was being poured.
Photo: John T. Bell
Two-thirds of Berkman Plaza 2 garage collapsed as the sixth floor slab was being poured.

Named as defendants in the suit are Southern Pan Services, Co., Davie, Fla.; Universal Engineering Sciences Inc., Orlando, Fla.; Infinity Reinforcing Inc., Palm Coast, Fla.; P.T.E. Strand Co. Inc., Hialeah, Fla.; A.A. Pittman & Son Concrete Co., Mandarin, Fla., and Harsco Corp. d/b/a Patent Construction Systems, Paramus, N.J. Choate Construction Co., Atlanta, is the general contractor and is named in the suit, but not sued because its contract with Berkman Plaza 2 requires conflict resolution via mediation and arbitration.

The lawsuit's 21 "general allegations" include improper execution of work, failing to supervise the work, employing unfit persons, improper loading, improper shoring and reshoring, improperly permitting cold joints, improper concrete placement and placing concrete of insufficient strength, among other things.

The 413-car garage was part of a $40-million project that included a 23-story tower with 222 residential units. It collapsed on Dec. 6, 2007, during an early-morning concrete pour of the sixth-floor slab.

In June, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed penalties totaling $192,800 against Choate, Southern Pan Services and A.A. Pittman. OSHA assessed three violations against Choate, including one willful violation carrying a penalty of $49,500, and four violations against Southern Pan, including two willful violations with $125,000 total penalties. To date, Pittman has settled for two other-than-serious violations totaling $3,600 in penalties. Choate and Southern Pan are contesting their alleged violations, says an OSHA spokesman.

Forensic engineers have studied the failure and submitted reports, but the reports have not been made public. One source, who requests anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, says that voids were discovered in the third-floor concrete when the forms were stripped, and that the voids were caused by improperly sized aggregate blocking the flow of concrete.

Construction has not been resumed on the project. In June, "the owner issued a notice of termination, which we are disputing," says Sean Allen, Choate's general counsel. The family of Willie Edwards III, the laborer and Pittman employee who was killed, have not yet filed any suits. "We're talking to the insurance companies for the subs and the general," says Craig Gibbs, the family's Jacksonville-based attorney. Berkman's suit against the subs is the first civil action arising from the case.

Officials and lawyers for the subcontractors whom ENR was able to reach all say the suit against them is without merit. "We were just a material supplier on this job," says Sergio A. Dalmau, vice president of P.T.E. Strand. His company provided post-tension materials, according to the complaint. "Our role on the project was labor only to install rebar as directed," says Timothy McLean, president of Infinity Reinforcing. Universal Engineering is Southern Pan's sub for inspection of shoring and reshoring, "internal QC for Southern Pan," says Mark Israel, Universal Engineering's president. He says the lawsuit's complaints against all the subcontractors together is "just a shotgun approach," an attempt by Berkman Plaza 2 to blame someone else.

But ENR was unable to obtain comments from subs more directly responsible for concrete forming, placement and shoring. Citing corporate policy, Ken Julian, spokesman for Harsco Corp., declined to comment on active litigation. Harsco's Patent Construction Systems is responsible for "design and all required materials for all shoring and re-shoring," according to the complaint. Neither A.A. Pittman nor Southern Pan Services responded to multiple attempts by ENR to reach them. Pittman is the concrete subcontractor and Southern Pan is the forming sub.

Philip Beck, Berkman's lawyer, says, "It is our belief, based on what we know at this time, that each of the defendants had some responsibility that contributed to the failure or we would not have named them that way."