State fines Deep Rock Tunnel contractor for explosion that hurt worker; lawsuit pending

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The wife and legal guardian of a man hurt in a subterranean explosion has filed a lawsuit against two of the contractors on the city’s ongoing Deep Rock Tunnel project.

According to court documents, 31-year-old Tyler Tompkins was injured back in April when a boring machine exploded and a “piping and/or piping fragments forcefully struck Tyler” while he was more than 200 feet underground.

“(Tompkins) suffered permanent and catastrophic injuries to his person, including a severe traumatic brain injury, that have rendered him totally physically and mentally incapacitated and causing him to incur emergency medical, hospital, diagnostic, surgical, therapeutic, pharmaceutical and other medical expenses,” the lawsuit states.

“Our investigation revealed that this explosion was entirely preventable,” said Fort Wayne attorney Robert Boughter of Boughter Sinak, LLC, who, along with attorney Stephen Wagner of Wagner Reese, LLP, is representing Tompkins and his wife Claire in the lawsuit.

The Deep Rock Tunnel project involves boring a five-mile tunnel through bedrock under the city to divert sewage away from rivers and directly to the wastewater treatment plant. The project began in 2018 and is expected to be complete in 2023.

During the time of the accident, Tompkins was an employee of Salini Impregilo SPA Inc./The Lane Construction Corporation. However, the company nor the city of Fort Wayne is listed in the lawsuit.

Tompkins’ wife and temporary legal guardian, Claire, is seeking monetary damages for his injuries, court costs, and any future relief from Herrenknecht Tunnelling Systems, USA, Inc. and Shambaugh & Son, L.P.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) conducted a safety compliance inspection and found that Tompkins’ employer, Lane Construction Corporation, created hazardous conditions that did not comply with Indiana Code.

IOSHA documents show the employer “did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, in the employees were exposed as follow.” Because of this, the company was ordered to pay a fine of $7,000.

According to a family attorney, an outside consultant inspected the tunnel following the incident and found that the explosion happened due to design defects and the manufacturing of the boring machine. The lawsuit also claims the contractors did not provide adequate safety warnings or instructions on how to safely operate the machine.

“These parties failed in their duty to protect Tyler and other workers in the tunneling operations,” Boughter said. “They failed in their duty to ensure the TBM and its systems were safe to use on this project. We are determined to help Tyler and his family get justice and to prevent other workers from suffering a similar fate.”

WANE 15 reached out to the contractors named in the lawsuit.

We are aware of the lawsuit filed by Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins. We have no comment on the merits or any other aspect of the lawsuit as we do not comment on current and ongoing litigation.”

Michael Wroblewski
Legal counsel for Herrenknecht Tunnelling Systems, USA, Inc.

“We at Shambaugh share our sincere sympathy for Mr. Tompkins and his extended family. That said, as this is now a matter of ongoing litigation, we do not intend to comment further.”

Shambaugh & Son, L.P spokesperson

WANE 15 also reached out to Tompkins employer, Lane Construction Corporation, for comment and at the time of publication it had not responded to our request.

A hearing will be held on Sept. 23.

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