Jury awards $57.2 million in damages to WSDOT in SR 99 tunnel delay trial

Dec 13, 2019, 12:04 PM | Updated: 4:24 pm
Bertha, SR 99 tunnel lawsuit...
Bertha has continued to cause controversy long after being decommissioned. (WSDOT)

A Thurston County jury has awarded $57.2 million damages from Seattle Tunnel Partners to the state in the SR 99 tunnel delays trial.

Seattle Tunnel Partners face sanctions in Bertha lawsuit

The Washington State Department of Transportation confirmed the verdict on Friday. Jury deliberations began Thursday afternoon following a two month trial.

Governor Inslee said on Friday that he’s thankful Washington state persisted with the tunnel project despite the challenges.

“We never wavered from our position that it was always the contractor’s responsibility to fix the tunneling machine and that taxpayers should not pay the repair bill,” Inslee said. “We are grateful the jury agreed and awarded damages to taxpayers for a tunnel delivered three years behind schedule.”

An attorney for Seattle Tunnel Partners told KIRO 7 they were disappointed by the verdict and are evaluating all options regarding a possible appeal.

On Thursday in Thurston County, attorneys for both the Washington State Department of Transportation and the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, made their closing arguments in court.

The tunnel machine Bertha broke down in 2013 after digging only a thousand feet of the 2-mile SR 99 tunnel.

Contractors lifted Bertha out of the ground to repair and rebuild it, and the machine was out of service for two years.

Because STP finished the job 867 days late, WSDOT says the contract requires the company to pay the state $57.2 million in damages.

“(STP’s) excuses and finger pointing should end with you in this trial,” WSDOT attorney David Goodnight told jurors.

STP said the state owes it money for repair costs and damages.

Before the trial, contractors asked for $642 million. That request was reduced to $337 million after the court rejected parts of the claim.

“STP did deliver a machine that could do the job, except for one steel pipe,” said STP attorney John Dingess.

STP contends Bertha broke down after chewing through a steel pipe the state did not adequately disclose.

Contractors say state witnesses who disputed the pipe caused the damage are not experts in tunneling.

A full timeline of the Bertha tunnel project

“We urge you to the reject these unfounded skeptics because literally they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Dingess told the jury.

Attorneys for the state say the $80 million Hitachi-Zosen machine was poorly designed and operated, and that the design-build contract protects taxpayers from covering the cost STP’s mistakes.

As for the steel pipe, the state says it was on contractors to remove it.

“It doesn’t matter if it was steel, plastic or kryptonite, their duty was to remove it,” Goodnight said.

Written by KIRO 7’s Graham Johnson

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Jury awards $57.2 million in damages to WSDOT in SR 99 tunnel delay trial