According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), failure to account for shifting epoxy that led to a fatal collapse could cost the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA) millions of dollars in both civil and criminal penalties.

On July 10, 2006, Milena Del Valle was driving through one of the Big Dig tunnels when a large panel collapsed, raining 26 tons of concrete and hardware down on her car. Del Valle was killed; her husband sustained minor injuries. The NTSB report determines that the collapse could have been avoided had designers and construction crews taken into account that the epoxy holding support anchors for the concrete panels could slowly pull away over time.

The report may prove to be a big boost to attorneys looking to hit the responsible parties with expensive lawsuits. In addition to the numerous civil suits that have been brought, U.S. attorney general Martha Coakley is weighing criminal penalties. Among the damning evidence: a 1999 memo from contractor Modern Continental Construction Co. to project management firm Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff warning that a number of ceiling bolts showed signs of tensile movement, thus creating gaps in the ceiling hangar plates of up to ½ inch.

“The buck stops with the people in charge,” says Massachusetts state Sen. Steven Baddour. “All they had to do was a simple inspection.”