Updated 12:11 p.m.
Demolition firm Breeze National is suing Columbia for breach of contract and slander following the University’s decision to terminate its contract with the firm, according to court documents filed by Breeze.
Breeze was contracted to demolish eight buildings on the site of Columbia’s Manhattanville campus expansion. It was in the process of demolishing the fifth building when the structure collapsed on March 22, killing one worker and injuring two others.
Lend Lease, Columbia’s primary contractor for the expansion, sent a letter to Breeze on April 13 indicating that its contract would be terminated, according to court documents filed by Breeze.
But in a complaint filed in the New York State Supreme Court, Breeze alleges that Columbia wrongfully terminated the contract, claiming it was not responsible for the building’s collapse. The firm argues that Columbia was trying to “publicly distance them from negative publicity resulting from the incident and to wrongfully and falsely blame Breeze for being responsible.”
According to the complaint, Breeze resubmitted its demolition plan to the city’s Department of Buildings in the aftermath of the building collapse. The DOB approved the plan, but refused to allow Breeze back on the demolition site after a private meeting with Columbia, the firm said.
Breeze argues that it “sustained significant damages” as a result of “defamation, slander, and disparaging statements” made by Columbia and Lend Lease both in private conversations with the DOB and in the media.
“Columbia’s actions demonstrate such wanton dishonesty as to imply a criminal indifference to civil obligations,” the complaint states.
Although the DOB has not made a final determination on the cause of the collapse, Breeze asked its engineering consultant, the firm Howard Shapiro & Associates, to survey the construction site.
Shapiro’s report states that an unusual, “latent condition” in the building’s structure caused the collapse—a faulty connection between sections of horizontal floor beams that failed to hold when a beam was cut in preparation for demolition. Breeze officials have said they could not have detected this condition.
Breeze contends that Columbia owes the firm $362,447 in damage due to wrongful termination of its contract. Breeze also says that Columbia unfairly induced the firm to reduce its original bid for the demolition work by $234,000, which it is also asking for in damages.
A Columbia spokesperson declined to comment, saying that the University doesn't comment on litigation. University President Lee Bollinger told Spectator on May 3 that an investigation into the building collapse was ongoing.
A representative for Breeze was not was available for comment early Tuesday morning.