Cowboys employees file lawsuits
DALLAS -- Two Dallas Cowboys employees seriously injured in the collapse of the team's indoor practice facility filed lawsuits Tuesday against the company that designed the structure and others linked to its construction and repair.
Scouting assistant Rich Behm and special teams coach Joe DeCamillis filed lawsuits against Summit Structures LLC and others involved in building and repairing the steel and fabric facility. The 88,000-square-foot structure collapsed in a wind storm May 2 while a practice for recently drafted players was being conducted inside.
Behm, who was paralyzed from the waist down, and DeCamillis, who suffered a broken vertebrae, seek unspecified damages in the suits, which contain similar language but were filed in separate Dallas courts.
The tentlike facility did not meet applicable codes for wind loading resistance even after Summit, based in Allentown, Pa., and a Las Vegas engineering firm, JCI Holding LLC, represented to the Cowboys that design defects had been corrected, according to the suits.
The complaints contend that the actions of Summit; a related company, Cover-All Building Systems of Saskatoon, Canada; and JCI constitute gross negligence. The suits also claim the companies engaged in a civil conspiracy by agreeing to hide and conceal the facility's shortcomings.
"I think this entire thing was so easily preventable had Summit and Cover-All and the engineers from Las Vegas set about to resolve the problem instead of minimizing their costs," said Frank Branson, the attorney representing Behm and DeCamillis.
Tom Fee, the attorney for Summit, said the company would not comment on the suits except to reiterate its belief that unusually high winds caused the collapse.
"Summit believes there will be credible evidence that there was a catastrophic weather event involved," he said.
Scott Jacobs, an engineer who leads JCI Holding and is one of the named defendants in the suits, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.
The lawsuits state that Summit was notified in 2007 that the Cowboys' facility hadn't been properly designed and presented a safety hazard. Repair work described as a "temporary fix" was done in the summer of 2007, and permanent repairs were supposed to be made after the 2007 season, according to the suits.
The suits claim that Summit and JCI represented in 2008 that the permanent work had been done when that wasn't the case.
City of Irving building records show only that the Cowboys sought to have the roof fabric replaced in 2008. Nathan Stobbe, the president of Summit Structures, attributed the repair to "aesthetics" in a letter sent to the company's other customers after the collapse.
The failure of the Cowboys' facility was at least the fifth involving a Summit-designed building since 2002. The Cowboys selected Summit to build their practice facility in June 2003, just months after a warehouse built by Summit for the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority collapsed in a snowstorm.
Greg Iannarelli, the port's chief's counsel, has told The Associated Press he spoke to Cowboys official Bruce Mays when the team was considering hiring Summit and again when a Philadelphia judge issued an order stating the warehouse collapse was due to design flaws.
Branson said workman's compensation law prevents Behm and DeCamillis from suing the Cowboys. However, he said he believes the team was duped in its dealings with Summit and JCI.
Branson said his inquiry has found that the Cowboys learned of deficiencies in their building after hiring Charles Timbie, a building-collapse expert who worked with the Philadelphia port authority when it sued Summit. Branson said it was Timbie's work that led the team to require Summit and JCI to make repairs.
"I think evidence will show that [the companies] represented to the Cowboys and to Timbie that they had made those permanent fixes, and [the repairs] weren't adequate," Branson said.
Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple declined to comment on the lawsuits.
The suits also detail alleged flaws in the building's foundation and names as defendants three companies that were involved in its construction. The foundation issues -- related primarily to the steel rods used to secure the building's steel trusses -- were discovered through evidence obtained after the collapse, Branson said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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