News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 12, 2013

Lawsuit from ’09 prompts meeting

Suit seeks $1.6M in damages from city

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A multi-year lawsuit between the City of Terre Haute and a West Lafayette-based contractor is the subject of a closed meeting today of the Board of Sanitary Commissioners.

The Sanitary Commission, a five-person body appointed by the mayor, is the target of the suit filed by Atlas Excavating, which ran into expensive problems in the final stages of a major south-end sewer project for the City of Terre Haute.

More than five years ago, sanitary commissioners hired Atlas Excavating to install sewer lines in southern Vigo County near the Woodgate subdivision and farther south. Near the end of the job, Atlas workers were boring a third sewer line under a CSX railroad line when they struck a “compressed pocket” of sand and water that locked up their equipment, said Tina Dillon, owner of the company.

Atlas, in a lawsuit that has been dragging on since about 2009, wants the Sanitary District to pay for the equipment, which was lost in the incident. Atlas was also directed by CSX to reinforce the ground under the tracks, costing the company about $200,000 and leading it to leave the boring equipment in the ground, Dillon said.

Total damages sought by Atlas are currently more than $1.6 million, according to court documents.

Atlas contends Terre Haute specifically directed the company to use a type of boring under the railroad tracks that was inappropriate to the conditions. When the city later hired another company to finish the job, the city specified “micro tunneling,” which would be the proper way to bore through sand and water, Dillon said.

“We did what was in the design to do,” Dillon told the Tribune-Star on Monday. Atlas also contends the city failed to do required test boring at the site where the problem took place.

Because this involves pending litigation, Chou-il Lee, the attorney handling the case for the Sanitary Board, did not wish to comment Monday. The Sanitary Board hired Lee, who also serves as city attorney, in has capacity as an attorney for the Indianapolis law firm of Taft, Stettinius & Hollister.

Atlas also accuses the Sanitary Board of terminating its contract improperly before the job was completed. The board, in an unpublicized meeting, voted to terminate the contract soon after a mediation session, Dillon said.

Again, due to the pending litigation, Lee had no comment on those contentions.

The case had been scheduled to come before Vigo County Judge Chris Newton this month. However, it has been “continued” until perhaps the end of the year or the first of 2014, court officials said Monday. “We’ve been willing to negotiate, but that has failed,” Dillon said. “It’s never good to have lawsuits for a contractor.”

Dillon also complained about the time the suit has dragged on, stating the city has filed “numerous” continuances. In response, Lee said both sides had asked for continuances. He sought one when first hired to take the case because the trial date conflicted with a prior trip planned to attend his mother’s 70th birthday party in California, Lee noted.

“If you look at the record, you’ll see who’s been asking for continuances,” Lee said. “There have been continuances filed by both sides.”