Crane contractor sues Bellevue project firms

A construction company accused in a civil lawsuit of causing a Bellevue tower crane to collapse has filed suit accusing other companies of causing the failure.

The new infighting involves Lease Crutcher Lewis, a Washington partnership that was general contractor on the Tower 333 building, where a tower crane collapsed on November 16, 2006. The collapse killed Matthew Ammon, 31, who was at home in an apartment across the street when the crane struck his building.

In October of this year, Ammon's parents sued Lease Crutcher Lewis and Magnusson Klemencic Associates Inc, an engineering firm, accusing them of failing to properly design and install the crane.

Now Lease Crutcher Lewis is arguing that five other businesses, in addition to Magnusson Klemencic, made mistakes that led to the crane's collapse.

Named in the suit are Liebherr Cranes Inc, Northwest Tower Crane Service Inc, S&S Welding Inc, CI Holdings Inc - which does business as Caliber Inspection, and Earth Consulting Inc - doing business as Earth Consultants Inc.

Lease Crutcher Lewis, through its attorneys argues that each of the businesses made errors in installing and designing the crane.

Liebherr manufactured the crane, the filings argue, but the crane "was not reasonably safe as designed, was not reasonably safe in construction ... and/or in instructions and warnings provided by Liebherr."

Northwest Tower Crane, the filings say, "was on notice of potential dangers associated with the crane."

According to the lawsuit, Caliber was responsible for testing the frame of the crane base at Tower 333. "Inadequate testing of the frame and its welds ... was a direct and proximate cause of the crane's collapse," the suit alleges.

Earth Consulting "performed inadequate inspections," the suit says, and Magnusson Klemencic and an employee there "negligently designed an unsafe base for the crane."

None of the defendants in the Lease Crutcher Lewis suit have yet filed responses to the claims, brought in King County Superior Court on Nov. 30.

Magnusson Klemencic has denied the accusations that it was at fault and has identified four other companies, including some of those named in the Lease Crutcher suit, as being responsible for the collapse, although it has not filed formal claims against them.

An investigation by the state Department of Labor & Industries concluded the crane collapsed because of metal fatigue caused by a flawed engineering design. It imposed fines on Lease Crutcher Lewis and Magnusson Klemencic. The firms are appealing those penalties.

The collapsed crane was fastened to an abandoned parking-garage structure left from an earlier development on the site, rather than being fastened to a concrete pad set in the ground. A replacement crane installed in January 2007 used a ground-based installation

The civil lawsuit brought by the Ammons family is to go to trial in March 2009.


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