UConn Law Library
UConn Law Library ()

A long-running legal battle over shoddy construction at the University of Connecticut law library has come to an end, as a group of contractors has settled with the state for more than $12 million.

The state received the check Tuesday as part of the mediated settlement with a wide range of defendants, each of whom contributed varying amounts, the university said.

The $24 million Thomas J. Meskill Library was designed in 1992 and finished in 1996. Water leaks and other construction flaws were discovered in the Gothic Revival building almost immediately. The state spent years and $22 million trying to fix the problem with the help of forensic engineers. In 2008, the state filed the lawsuit against 28 construction firms, architects, designers, inspectors and other defendants.

“Instead of a landmark law library, contractors left a structural mess and legal morass,” then-state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said when the suit was filed. “These companies did shoddy and substandard work, sticking the law school with a building riddled with leaks, cracks and defects. Far from lasting 100 years, this structure required massive repairs after barely a decade.”

An independent architectural firm discovered shoddy workmanship that left the building’s signature granite facade so vulnerable it could blow off in a heavy windstorm. The facade eventually had to be removed and reattached after its anchors began to loosen.

“At its dedication in 1996, my predecessor Dean Hugh Macgill described our law library as ‘a building that only a tyrant need fear,’” UConn law Dean Timothy Fisher said in a statement released Wednesday, May 21. “How ironic, however, that hidden defects actually rendered the building unsafe to its very users.”

While in private practice at McCarter & English, Fisher was hired as the primary attorney representing the state in the litigation. He joined UConn last year as its dean. “We finally have a law library that is safe and secure, and fair compensation for the extra costs the taxpayers had to endure to achieve this result,” Fisher said. “This was possible only because of the sustained effort by the University and the Office of the Attorney General over the 10 years it took to get a fair settlement.”

The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from Raymond Garcia, a New Haven lawyer who represented Hartford-based Lombardo Mason Contractors, one of the contractors on the project. Garcia had previously argued that work on the library had been approved each day by the architect, construction manager and representatives of both the university and the state Department of Public Works.

The settlement ends litigation that also included a precedent-setting 2012 state Supreme Court ruling. When the state’s lawsuit was filed, the defendants immediately responded that the state had waited too long to take action, that the statute of limitation had run out in the dozen years since the library construction had been completed.

But a unanimous Supreme Court held that the state is not bound by statutes of limitations when it wants to sue years later, thanks to a centuries-old doctrine known as “nullum tempus,” which loosely tranlated means time doesn’t run against the king. The ruling, which allowed the state’s lawsuit to proceed, was widely noted by construction lawyers across the state, who said it put public contractors on notice to be especially careful about work quality, document retention, and insurance coverage.

“We’re not saying there should be immunity for contractors for their projects,” Matthew Hallisey, who was then the legislative liason for the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said after the Supreme Court decision. “There should be liability, but we think there should be a public policy discussion about when that liability ends.”

Connecticut’s current attorney general George Jepsen, agreed that it had been highly unusual for the state to wait 12 years to sue. However, following the 2012 ruling, he said: “We’re not private litigants acting in narrow self-interested terms. We act in the broad public interest. In this particular instance, until they ripped the building apart, years after the faulty construction, we didn’t know how poorly executed the construction was.”