With construction again underway on the downtown library, the legal battle over who’s responsible for the structural failure that stalled the project almost a year is taking shape.
In recent court documents, the city has dropped its case against general contractor Buquet & LeBlanc and its insurance companies, and has honed its allegations against WHLC Architecture-Schwartz/Silver, the architects’ insurance companies, and three subcontractors—Houston-based Structural Consultants Associates, Meridien, Mississippi-based Slay Steel and Carter Miller Associates of Lafayette.
In an amended lawsuit filed in March, the city-parish lays direct blame on Carter Miller, the connection engineer, Slay Steel, the steel fabricator that contracted with Carter Miller to provide the steel components that ultimately failed, and SCA, the structural engineer that was in charge of making sure the 40-foot cantilever would work.
But the suit ultimately blames the architects, however indirectly, for failing to catch the subcontractors’ mistakes. Ironically, WHLC Architecture/Schwartz/Silver is also serving as the program manager and therefore overseeing construction on the project again, now that it has resumed.
Though all of the companies named in the lawsuit were defendants in the original suit, the new complaint contains some new details about the apparent cause of the structural failure, which occurred April 18, 2018, though it’s still not clear which of the subcontractors is most to blame.
According to the suit, Carter Miller prepared faulty shop drawings and calculations for the steel trusses needed to support the cantilevered portion of the building. The suit alleges the firm “breached its duty by failing to review and verify that all structural steel shop drawings confirmed with the intent of SCA’s design.”
But the suit goes on to blame Slay for providing complete anchor bolt shop drawings, designs and other items that did not “adequately accommodate the structural member loads and forces necessary to support the cantilever.”
Attorneys for SCA, Sly and Carter Miller have not yet filed and responses to the amended lawsuit, and have declined to discuss the litigation, as have attorneys for the city-parish. But the suit is expected drag on for months or years. The Metro Council recently approved additional funds to pay for the city’s private law firm.
The building, meanwhile, is expected to be completed in October.