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Missing evidence in Seattle tunnel case could get lawsuit thrown out

Contractors for the Seattle tunnel project say evidence that its tunnel boring machine was damaged is missing or was destroyed.

Did the contractors who built the new SR 99 tunnel under Seattle just blow their case to win about $600 million from taxpayers? A Thurston County judge called out Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) for egregious concealment, which could get the case thrown out.

A ruling was filed late Friday in the case over who would pay for delays on the project caused when the massive tunneling machine, dubbed Bertha, was damaged. STP said Bertha was damaged when it hit a pipe in 2013. The pipe was buried by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

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The state claims Bertha was not damaged by the pipe.

Pieces of the pipe were accidentally thrown away, STP attorney John Dingess said. Pieces of the pipe, boulders, and a crew member’s journal from the time of the pipe incident considered evidence have either been lost or destroyed. All that’s left are photos of the pipe.

“STP delayed telling WSDOT that it had lost or destroyed the pieces of pipe and boulders despite its duty to preserve such evidence,” Judge Carol Murphy said in Friday’s ruling. “That STP acted in bad faith by concealing it had lost or destroyed the pieces of pipe.”

The judge said the STP contractor left most of the evidence out on the job site, in the rain, and with no extra security, no signage to tell anybody to leave it alone.

Since the journal went missing, Judge Murphy said, the state never had the opportunity to review its contents thus creating a potential disadvantage.

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