• Firms in outage lawsuit spread blame


    AspenDailyNews.com

    Two firms being sued for allegedly causing the 12-hour power outage in August that forced several downtown Aspen businesses to close their doors have designated several parties that may be at fault.

    Seven businesses, including four restaurants, have filed lawsuits against LKP Engineering and Odell Drilling, seeking thousands of dollars in lost wages and profits from the Aug. 4 incident.

    The companies were performing soil-sample work at a home on East Hallam Street — the homeowner, Patricia Gorman, is also named as a defendant — when crews sliced through nine utility lines, according to authorities.

    LKP and Odell in December pleaded no contest in Aspen Municipal Court to a charge of damaging city infrastructure. Charges of drilling in the public right of way and failing to provide adequate protection for city infrastructure were dismissed as part of a plea agreement that saw the firms pay the city $17,324.

    But LKP and Odell have named the city as one of the entities that, while they are not a party in the lawsuit, may be liable for the outage.

    The city “owed a duty to one or more parties in this action to perform all necessary utility-locating services at 101 E. Hallam St. … including electric, fiber optic and any and all other city-owned utilities at the property prior to excavation on Aug. 4, 2014,” wrote Stuart Morse, the attorney representing Morrison-based Odell. “Moreover, the city of Aspen elected to join the [Utility Notification Center of Colorado] as a tier two member, exposing the public to risk.”

    Tier two refers to the lower classification of utilities that contract with the UNCC, an organization that companies can call for assistance in locating utility lines before an underground project. This is also known as the Colorado-811 service. Under the legislative declaration, when the UNCC was formed in 1993, tier one members receive more benefits than do tier two members.

    LKP’s attorney, Jeanne Baak, also mentions that status, writing that the city of Aspen opted against obtaining the tier one classification.

    “Further the city of Aspen may not have properly marked its fiber optic lines that existed in the same trench as the electric lines” that were severed, the LKP filing says.

    David Hornbacher, the city’s utilities director, declined comment Wednesday, citing the pending nature of the lawsuits.

    The UNCC itself is also designated by both defendant companies as a non-party that may be at fault.

    Colorado-811 “failed to mark at least one tier one utility line located in the same trench as the electric lines at issue in this matter,” Morse wrote. “Had Colorado-811 properly located the tier one utilities, LKP would have been alerted to the presence of a utility trench in the vicinity of where it had been directed to take its soil sample. Colorado-811 is therefore wholly or partially at fault for the plaintiffs’ claimed damages.”

    Other non-parties named as potentially at fault are: Comcast of Western Colorado, Qwest Corp., and Source Gas, all of which “may not have properly marked” their utility lines, Morse wrote.

    Aspen City Attorney Jim True said such filings are common by defendants in cases like these.

    “It’s commonly asserted to attempt to reduce an individual’s financial liability,” he said. “If you can convince a jury that the city is 10 percent liable, that’s 10 percent the defendant doesn’t have to pay.”