Safety First: Public Safety vs. Due Process
Does public safety take precedence over due process in a pending litigation? An on-going construction defects case in Las Vegas, Nevada recently addressed this concern. Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez recently approved a petition to demolish the Harmon Hotel—a never-opened 26-story structure fronting Las Vegas Boulevard between the Crystals shopping center and the Cosmopolitan resort—acknowledging the public safety risk if the building were to collapse during an earthquake.
The Harmon was originally was designed to be a 40-story boutique hotel but has sat unfinished, as a costly Cirque du Soleil billboard since construction was halted in 2010 after the discovery of defects involving missing or improperly installed reinforcing steel. The owner, CityCenter, blames Tutor-Perini, the general contractor and its subcontractors saying demolition is the surest way to deal with the dangerous structure. The general contractor was sure the Harmon could be repaired and claims CityCenter is just trying to get rid of a building it doesn’t need given the current state of Las Vegas economic situation. Thus, we have litigation.
The outcome of this case is to an extent dependent on finding sufficient evidence of irreparable defects that can be extrapolated across the entire structure with a high confidence. This type of evidence is usually accomplished through destructive testing. However, despite the general contractor’s request for additional destructive testing…to obtain a higher confidence, the Judge ruled in favor of public safety. The court filing noted that “the Harmon tower will be severely damaged during a major earthquake and critical structural elements, such as transfer elements, are likely to fail and lead to a partial or complete collapse of the tower.”
The lengthy court document approving demolition predicted a 50% chance of such a quake within 30 years. This type of reasoning illustrates the Court felt that there is a point where the safety of the public trumps any due process concerns the general contractor may have.