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ND Stadium suits settled out of court

Claire Heininger | Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Six years, 17 law firms and three feet of paperwork later, lawsuits arising from faulty construction work on the 1997 expansion to Notre Dame Stadium were finally resolved last Thursday without a trial.

The settlement – the terms of which were kept confidential – sought financial compensation for damages sustained during the $50 million, 20,000-seat expansion’s debut. Serious flaws in construction and engineering caused water and sewage to flood the stadium on Sept. 6, 1997. These flaws and others that appeared later required more than $4 million in repairs, including the installation of waterproof joint seals and the destruction and rebuilding of cracked concrete slabs on the stadium’s upper concourses, ramps and stair landings.

Notre Dame filed suit to cover these expenses in 1999 against Ellerbe Becket Inc., the expansion plan’s project architect, and Casteel Construction Corp. of South Bend, the plan’s general contractor and construction management firm.

In response, the two companies sued over a dozen subcontracting firms involved in the stadium renovations. Ellerbe Becket also filed a separate suit against the insurance carriers of these various companies.

More than four years of complex deliberations later, a $10,000-a-day mediator from Boston helped over 30 attorneys piece together a deal this past June. After a summer of deliberating about details, checks were distributed in early September, as the attorneys signed the necessary documents to put an end to the cases.

St. Joseph Circuit Court Judge Terry Crone then made the dismissals official Thursday, when he signed the briefs “with prejudice,” which means they cannot be refiled in any court of law.

A trial addressing the 11 separate files of litigation could have taken several more months, Crone said.

“We’re pleased that the matter has been resolved,” said University spokesman Matthew Storin. “It did take a while to come to a mutual agreement, but we’re glad it’s over.” Storin would not comment on the actual settlement of the lawsuits.

The bitter aftermath of the lawsuits caused a falling out in Notre Dame’s relationship with Ellerbe Becket, who had designated most new buildings at the university since the 1950’s. Since the suit was filed, the firm has not done any design work for the University.

Stuart Smith, a spokesman for Ellerbe Becket, said the company hopes the suits’ reconciliation will lead to future work at Notre Dame. “We have a wonderful legacy on that campus,” he said.

Vern Casteel, owner of Casteel Construction, agreed with Smith.

“Casteel’s people are well known throughout the construction business,” Casteel said. “We have built over 25 buildings on campus and still have a tremendous history with the University … we are glad to finally be able to mend fences and put the past behind us.”