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NNSA, LANL file tort claims against Los Alamos County

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By Carol A. Clark

In separate documents Friday, the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration and Los Alamos National Laboratory submitted notices of tort claims against Los Alamos County.

The notices pertain to a Feb. 21 incident that reportedly occurred while the Los Alamos Fire Department was conducting training at a LANL parking structure at TA-3.

The fire drill involved connecting a pumper truck to a stand pipe within the parking structure and then pressurizing the fire protection system with water.

Not long after starting this operation, a portion of the fire protection piping failed, causing damage to the parking structure, according to the claims. Los Alamos National Security, LLC, (LANS), conducted an investigation and determined that the failure of the fire protection piping was caused by the negligent “over pressurization” of the system by firefighters involved in the drill.

NNSA’s tort claim states, “It is our understanding that LANS is filing a claim for these damages against the county. In the event that LANS is unable to prevail on its claim, NNSA, as the landowner for LANL facilities, intends to pursue recoupment for the cost of the repairs to the parking structure and the fire protection system, the expenses incurred by LANS in evaluating the damages, and all other costs associated with the claim.”

Site Counsel Silas R. DeRoma, who signed the notice of claim for NNSA/DOE, referred media inquiries to NNSA local site office spokesman Don Ami.

“The lab ran some extensive cost estimates on this so they would have a better idea of how much those costs might be,” Ami explained in a telephone conversation late Wednesday.

LANL spokesman Kevin Roark said this morning that it won't amount to a "big number."

“After discussions with the NNSA Site Office, the Laboratory provided preliminary notice to Los Alamos County that it may be asked to pay for damages to the fire suppression system at the Laboratory’s main parking garage,” Roark said. “We hope that this matter can be reasonably resolved, but filing at this time was necessary to protect LANS’ rights under state law.”

County Attorney Mary McInerny confirmed that the law requires that notice of tort claims be filed within 90 days following an incident. These notices arrived on the final day of that time frame, she said.

“The notice is an administrative process to let the governmental entity know they may attempt to collect on a claim,” McInerny said. “It’s a legal requirement in the Tort Claim Act.”

The county intends to send the notices to its insurance carrier, she said.

“They’ll conduct an initial review to determine if we have any potential liability under the law,” McInerny said.

If the insurance carrier finds no liability, the county will notify the laboratory of that fact, she said. However, if responsibility is found then there will be some sort of normal claims adjuster review.

“The county doesn’t have to respond to a claim but it does have to respond to a law suit,” McInerny said, adding that several claims are filed against the county each week, ranging from alleged equipment damage from a power outage to property damage from a snow plow.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.