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Published May 10 2012

NDSU Minard Hall lawsuit filed

FARGO – North Dakota State University’s lawsuit against three contractors over the collapse of Minard Hall finally made its way into the Cass County District Court this week.

The lawsuit, which was served in December, claims the contractors failed to properly deal with soil testing and excavation beneath the hall’s north end, which collapsed during the night in December 2009 in the midst of an $18 million expansion project.

It wasn’t filed until Wednesday. And in a twist, it was filed by Joseph Wetch, an attorney for one of the contractors, rather than by NDSU.

Wetch filed the suit because he is seeking a judge’s backing in a subpoena he issued to Forum Communications seeking photos, video and other media materials related to the collapse. Forum Communications challenged the subpoena, citing North Dakota’s shield law for journalists.

Wetch, who represents Northern Technologies Inc., an engineering firm that worked on the hall, said it’s not an unusual maneuver.

“Any party can file the case once they think they need a judge to intervene,” he said.

Dan Hull, the attorney representing NDSU, wouldn’t comment on why the lawsuit wasn’t filed sooner, but indicated it was a matter of litigation strategy.

Neither party would comment on whether they’ve explored a settlement or intend to push the issue to trial.

Northern Technologies, JLG Architects and Heyer Engineering, all of Fargo, are defendants in the suit. NDSU claims the firms didn’t obtain sufficient soil tests beneath the hall, provided a defective design for the basement, and didn’t spot the problems of the excavation before the collapse.

The university, which says the collapse added nearly $5 million to the cost of the project, is seeking damages to be specified at trial.

The firms deny they were responsible. In its response to the lawsuit, NTI said the university’s losses were the result of “a mere accident an Act of God, or the acts, omissions, negligence, assumption of risk or other faults of other forces or persons.”

Meanwhile, NDSU is also suing the State Fire and Tornado Fund, which denied a claim on the collapse. The fund said unsupported excavation caused the incident. That lawsuit is still in the process of discovery.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502

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