Lawsuits to close Centergy parking deck collapse saga

Four insurance companies have sued an Atlanta-based parking company to recoup the more than $110,000 in damages from the Centergy parking deck collapse in 2009.

While some insurance agencies have been able to garner settlements over the collapse that caused no injuries, but damaged hundreds of cars and completely destroyed 45, a peculiar anniversary may help bring closure to the final cases.

“Once the end of June comes, everybody else is barred from suing,” said attorney Alexandra Cornwell, who filed four suits Tuesday and Wednesday on behalf of Geico General Insurance, Liberty Mutual, USAA Casualty and American Mercury insurance companies.

Georgia has a 12-year limit for filing product liability complaints, and the garage will reach that time frame – counting from inception – on June 30, Cornwell said.

And although there had been ongoing negotiations over what was owed to her clients, she said the lawsuits are simply “reserving my clients’ rights.”

Named in the suits that claim negligent construction are Lanier Parking Holdings, Carolina Steel & Stone Inc., precast building parts manufacturer Metromont Corp., Tuff Parking LLC, KG Midtown, Engineered Restorations, Hardin Construction and Fifth Street Management Co.

Ken Manson, newly minted president of property manager Fifth Street Management, admitted to knowing very little about the inner workings of any litigation or settlements, but said he believed the structure was rebuilt well following the cave-in.

“This garage is probably the most attractive garage and safest you’ve ever seen,” he said. “You would be hard-pressed to find the section in it that collapsed.”

The deck collapsed on the afternoon of June 29, 2009 with roughly 700 vehicles parked in the structure located at 5th and William streets in Midtown.

One section of the deck went down when secondary bolts welded to support an exterior beam on the fifth level of the structure failed to hold. Parking staff working during the Monday lunch hour were able to rush anyone inside the deck to safety, and no one was hurt.

Now, insurance companies that compensated their clients are looking to be repaid by the nine companies involved either with construction or general management of the garage, claiming that some responsible agency should have had a better idea that the "spandrels" holding up the section of fifth-floor decking were loose.

Under particular scrutiny was Hardin Construction, the contractor that first erected the Canopy Walk that collapsed at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, killing one construction worker and injuring 14 more.

In a statement, Hardin Construction said, “The Centergy project met all of the requirements of the structural engineers and passed all inspections required by the City of Atlanta prior to receiving a Certificate of Occupancy in 2002. As this matter is now in litigation, it would be in appropriate for us to comment further.”

One insurance company -- State Farm -- has brokered several settlements with the nine defendants, but a representative for the agency's attorney, Candace Boutwell, said a nondisclosure agreement blocked any discussion of the settlement details.

Manson, who has been with Fifth Street for only eight weeks, signed off on some of those settlements, calling them fairly routine dealings between insurers.

"Since nobody was hurt, it's a fairly mechanical process," he said.

Cornwell expects all of the dealings -- from settlements to litigation -- to be over soon.

"Now, perhaps there will be a little bit of pressure on the defendants," she said. "It's all about all nine defendants coming together and agreeing on numbers and we will get these cases settled in a timely fashion."