Construction Law

The Hartford Civic Center Roof Collapse

     On January 18, 1978, after 5,000 college basketball fans left the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum, the then largest space frame over an arena collapsed during a snow storm. The civic center’s owner, the City of Hartford, and its insurer, the Travelers Insurance Company, sued the coliseum’s steel supplier, Bethlehem Steel Corporation; the coliseum’s architect; the space frame’s structural engineers; and numerous subcontractors. Bethlehem Steel was represented by Robert B. Yules, among others, while associated with the now defunct firm of Bailey and Weschler of Hartford.

     The two cases arising out of the collapse involved extensive engineering discovery. Among many areas, the discovery focused upon (1) the design engineer’s over reliance upon computer analysis; (2) the failure of the construction manager to retain a structural engineer to oversee the space frame’s field construction; and (3) the lack of one entity to have overall responsibility for the project. The cases lasted five years and entailed seven months of jury selection before it settled favorably for Bethlehem Steel Corporation.

The Danbury Executive Tower Exterior Caulk Case

     At the time of its design and construction, the Danbury Executive Tower in Danbury, Connecticut was a classic looking modern office tower. Its façade consisted of the latest thermo-pane windows separated by precast concrete panels. The joints between the windows and the concrete panels and between the panels themselves were sealed with a paintable “weather-proof” caulking compound.

     Several years after the building’s construction, the owner’s engineering director contracted with a contractor to re-caulk the building’s windows and concrete panels to eliminate water seepage into the building. The experienced contractor undertook the project and completed it within budget and on time. However, within 6 months after project completion the building began experiencing water seepage after rainfalls. The tower’s owner, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, sued the contractor and the manufacturer of the caulk used by the contractor. The contractor’s insurer retained Yules & Yules to defend the contractor and to pursue the caulk manufacturer for indemnity.

     During discovery it was found that the caulk was manufactured by a solo entrepreneur who mixed the caulk’s ingredients in an old bath tub and used the latest packing machinery to “tube” the caulk. The caulk’s display advertising and tube information claimed that the caulk was scientifically formulated and laboratory and weather tested, which it was not. The case settled favorably for the contractor when the caulk manufacturer’s insurer learned how the product was made.