BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts' attorney general said on Monday he will sue 15 companies that worked on the state's troubled $15 billion "Big Dig" roadway project, alleging their negligence caused a ceiling panel to break loose and crush a woman to death this summer.
The state's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Tom Reilly, charges that project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff was "grossly negligent" in building something that caved in less than four years after the tunnel was opened.
"The clock was ticking. The fuse was lit. It was just a matter of time until a tragedy occurred," Reilly told a news conference.
The civil lawsuit, which also names the manufacturers and distributors of the epoxy used to hold bolts, was expected to be filed on Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, Reilly said.
The state is also suing Bechtel Corp., Parsons Brinkerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc., Gannett Fleming, Inc., which helped design the project, Sika Corp, which manufactured epoxy, and Modern Continental Construction Co., which built the tunnel ceiling, Reilly said.
The suit comes after a three-ton portion of the tunnel ceiling collapsed and crushed a car driving through the tunnel on July 10, killing 38-year-old Milena Del Valle instantly
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ordered an investigation and portions of the tunnel are still closed.
The $15 billion "Big Dig" highway project replaced an elevated expressway system through downtown Boston with a sleek network of tunnels.
It has attracted negative attention for years, first for delays and cost overruns that made it the costliest U.S. public works project and then for this summer's deadly accident.
"Massachusetts taxpayers have rightly been wondering how this happened, who is responsible, whether it was preventable, and who's going to pay for these deadly mistakes," Reilly said in a statement. "Well, today marks a first step in recouping some of the losses."
While the lawsuit does not estimate damages to the state, the Boston Globe quoted an unidentified source familiar with the matter as saying that Reilly would be able to seek more than $150 million from Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff and millions more from other defendants.
Del Valle's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August.
Reilly, who is leaving office early next year, filed the suit now to meet an important deadline. A portion of the tunnel opened to the public six years ago on Nov. 29, and if the lawsuit had not been filed before that date, the state might have lost of its potential legal standing.
(Additional reporting by Kevin McNicholas)