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Contractor: Panel Rejects Claims of Collapse Liability

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An arbitration panel overseeing a dispute between the general contractor and owner of a Jacksonville, Fla. garage that collapsed during construction has announced initial findings in favor of the contractor.

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Choate Construction Co. of Atlanta announced Feb. 7 that the panel ruled in its favor on all issues. Choate had faced claims related to the collapse and for breach of contract.

The contractor also stated that it had received favorable rulings on its claims for breach of contract and wrongful termination.

Berkman Plaza II LLC, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based developer Harbor Cos., was the owner of the 413-space parking garage and 23-story condominium project. Choate’s contract with Berkman required arbitration of any dispute. The garage collapsed in early December 2007, during an early-morning concrete pour of the sixth-floor slab, killing one person and injuring 23 others.

According to information provided by Choate, the panel determined the collapse was the “direct result of design errors, deficiencies and/or omissions for which Berkman is factually and legally responsible (and that) any actions, inactions or omissions by Choate (or its subcontractors or suppliers) did not cause the collapse.”

The panel’s full findings had not yet been made public. Officials with Berkman Plaza II could not be reached for comment.

In June 2008, the owner issued a notice of termination for Choate, which the contractor contested. At approximately the same time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had proposed penalties totaling $192,800 against Choate and two of the project’s subcontractors. OSHA originally assessed three violations against Choate, including one willful violation carrying a penalty of $49,500. Shawn Allen, general counsel for Choate, reported the firm and OSHA settled the matter in 2009, with Choate denying its actions had caused the collapse.

In January 2009, Berkman Plaza II filed suit against six of the project’s subcontractors, reportedly seeking damages “well in excess” of $36 million.


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