Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, a Washington federal judge signed off on a settlement in a $20 million wrongful death case stemming from a 2004 steam explosion in downtown D.C. that killed two men.
It's a case that has pitted seven defendants - the U.S. government, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority and five federal government contractors and subcontractors - against one another for more than six years over liability.
The terms of the settlement with the private companies are confidential. The settlement agreements with the government parties are not confidential, but they were not immediately available.
Joseph Hudert was killed on April 23, 2004, while working on water and steam systems connecting to the New Executive Office Building. Hudert's employer, Jessup, Md.-based Cherry Hill Construction Inc., was a subcontractor for Grunley-Walsh Joint Venture LLC, a Maryland construction company that contracted with the U.S. General Services Administration to do the project.
Hudert’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in March 2005 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The family of the other man killed in the explosion, Francis Stotmeister, filed a lawsuit in the same court one month later seeking $30 million in damages from the same set of defendants.
In addition to Cherry Hill Construction, Grunley-Walsh, the U.S. government and DC Water, the other defendants include McLean, Va.-based Alion Science and Technology Corp.; Philadelphia-based Day & Zimmerman Services; and Gaithersburg, Md.-based M&M Welding & Fabricators Inc.
From the beginning, the defendants have pursued counter-claims and third-party complaints against one another over who should be liable under indemnification and contribution provisions in the contracts surrounding the project. The defendants denied any wrongdoing, blaming each other for any mistakes or mismanagement that the two families allege led to the explosion.
An eighth defendant, Consolidated Engineering Services Inc., was already dismissed from the case and is not part of the settlement agreement with the Hudert family.
In addition to the intra-defendant motions, motions for summary judgment were also being briefed before U.S. District Senior Judge Thomas Hogan, who took over both cases from U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in October.
On Nov. 18, parties in the Hudert cases notified the court that they had reached a settlement. Hogan approved the dismissal (PDF) on Nov. 21, in an order that was posted Nov. 23. The terms of the settlement with the non-government parties are confidential. Attorneys for those defendants either declined to comment or did not immediately return requests for comment on Monday.
Lead counsel for the Hudert family, Michael Burgoyne of Thomas, Thomas & Hafer in Baltimore, was not immediately available for comment today. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and DC Water declined to comment. The settlement agreements with the two government parties are not confidential, but the terms were not immediately available Monday.
The Stotmeister case is moving forward, with parties briefing similar pending motions to those in the Hudert case. The trial is scheduled to begin in April. Lead counsel for the Stotmeister family, William Lightfoot of Washington's Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, declined to discuss the Hudert settlement.
“The courts require all parties to engage in good faith settlement negotiations. We will comply with the court’s order and hopefully have a favorable result,” Lightfoot said.