Texas A&M University has settled the lawsuit that has been in court for years over the bonfire collapse that killed 12 people and injured dozens of others nearly a decade ago. The settlement requires engineering supervision for any future campus bonfire. Apparently, A&M officials haven’t made a decision on whether future bonfires will be allowed. The university was sued by several people who were injured and by relatives of those killed in the November 1999 collapse. The huge structure of logs fell apart while it was being assembled for the school’s annual festivities preceding a football game with the rival University of Texas. Twelve people were killed and 27 more injured. The University will pay $2.1 million to settle the lawsuit.
It’s the first time the University has paid money in the bonfire litigation. The families of four students who died and three who were hurt had sued the University, school officials and construction contractors hired to help build the 59-foot-high stack of logs that roughly resembled a wedding cake. The agreement, filed in state District Court in Brazos County, resolves all remaining claims against current and former A&M employees, including Ray Bowen, who was president at the time of the collapse. Claims against the contractors are pending, and the University is a third-party Defendant in those matters.
According to media reports, the University had not participated in any of the previous settlements. Plaintiffs had reached a settlement totaling about $6 million in 2004 against student bonfire leaders known as “Red Pots” for their painted hard hats. Those claims were paid through the homeowner’s insurance policies of the parents of the Red Pots. Of the $2.1 million paid in the latest settlement, the University will pay $500,000, and insurance will cover the rest.
An investigative commission underwritten by A&M stopped short of assigning blame in its 2000 report but denounced the lack of University supervision of the student-run project, and criticized “tunnel vision in decision making” and a cultural bias that allowed safety problems to go uncorrected. In 2002, A&M signed an agreement with the Texas Board of Professional Engineers in which it promised to ensure that any bonfire on campus would have direct University supervision, including oversight by a licensed professional engineer, if warranted.
The settlement comes after a state appeals court ruled in May that A&M administrators were not immune from lawsuits. The administrators had argued that they were shielded by sovereign immunity, a doctrine that bars suits against government agencies and officials. But the State Court of Appeals in Waco said the Defendants were being sued as individuals. Besides Bowen, the former A&M president, the Defendants included J. Malon Southerland, William L. Kibler, Russell W. Thompson and other current and former officials. Claims against H.B. Zachry Co., a construction firm, and Scott-Macon Ltd., a crane company, are pending.
Source: Associated Press