Photo by Andrea Burdett for ENR; inset by Bryan Caniff
Family's lawsuit contends that a freestanding flight-monitor structuresuch as this one, which has added temporary wall support (circled)had design changes and construction omissions.

The Kansas family of a child who was killed when a 300-lb. freestanding flight display collapsed in March at the Birmingham, Ala., airport has sued for unspecified damages the architect, engineers and contractors involved in the terminal's recent renovation.

The lawsuit, filed on June 5 in the Jefferson County, Ala., circuit court, names Brasfield & Gorrie/BLOC Global Services Group, the Birmingham-based joint-venture construction manager for the $201-million terminal renovation at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

Also named were KPS Group, the project’s Birmingham-based architect and engineer, and A.G. Gaston Construction, Birmingham, the project manager.

Others named were KHAFRA Engineering Consultants, Saber Construction, Fish Construction, Monumental Contracting and Intersystems USA.

All companies had a hand in designing, building or installing the “multi-user flight information display” that fell and landed on three children and their mother, Heather Bresette. Luke Bresette, 10, was killed.

The lawsuit claims KPS and KHAFRA changed the unit’s design by replacing the plywood front with medium-density fiberboard, which it claimed is heavier and denser.

The drawings also were modified to carve a 6-in. recess at the bottom front, reducing the unit’s base to 12 in. from 18 in. A footrest also was added.

Fish Construction, which was hired to build and install the units, increased the  thickness of the front panel on each by boosting the density of its high-density fiberboard from 3/4 in. to 1-3/4 in., the lawsuit claims. This increased the weight "at the top front" of the unit, the lawsuit contends.

The defendants should have known that the changes placed the heavier front of the unit beyond the base and increased the risk that it would fall forward, the lawsuit says.

The failure to anchor the units created an unstable unit and a “foreseeable risk” of fatal damage to the public, the claim adds.

Brasfield & Gorrie and BLOC did install concrete anchors through the particle-board base to the concrete floor, but the unit that fell was left freestanding without anchors to the floors, ceiling or wall.

The lawsuit claims "egregious and outrageous neglect and willful or wanton omissions" by the defendants.

The family asked for actual and punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish the defendants for wrongful conduct and to deter and discourage others from similar acts in the future.

It also asked for a trial by jury.

Construction team members did not respond to the lawsuit's individual contentions.

In a statement, Brasfield & Gorrie-BLOC joint venture acknowledged the lawsuit, noting that it understands the family's decision "to pursue answers from the parties involved in the design and construction of the airport terminal."

It added, "Brasfield & Gorrie and BLOC have consistently earned their reputations as ethical and competent builders, and we are respected in the industry for our core values and commitment to doing the right thing. We are committed to addressing the issues surrounding the unfortunate accident at the airport through the legal system in a respectful and cooperative manner."

In a statement, KPS said it will "cooperate with the legal process ... to understand what happened to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. Out of respect for the lawsuit and the family, we will not – and cannot – speculate about any issue or party at this time."