May 29, 2009

NNSA, LANL file tort claims against Los Alamos County

By Carol A. Clark, The Los Alamos Monitor

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 or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at


Frank Young said...

LANL sues over a leaking pipe? Thanks Carol, I needed a good laugh.

Imagine the lab's dilemma had the spill occurred in PF-4. The pipes in there have never leaked, right?

Anonymous said...

Since Bechtel moved in....Los Alamos is no longer a company town!

Anonymous said...

Well, Frank, maybe break that pipe by yourself next time. Then LANL will sue for sure.

Anonymous said...

LANL is and always will be a company town. It's just that LANS is a money making venture, and all is fair when it comes to love, war and money. Kind of the way we used to feel about our UC retirement plan. Nothing else mattered.

Anonymous said...

NNSA and Congess have become a bunch of cheap skate when it comes to their weapons research labs.

They make the weapon labs pay outrageous profit management fees straight out of their operating budget (which is in decline).

They are making LANL pay for the destruction and disposal (D&D) of a 60 year old crumbling infrastructure through large overhead charges to existing program codes, thus driving away new program growth due to high overhead expenses. The upcoming tear down of the old TA-3 Admin building should help to really drive up overhead burdens during this next fiscal year.

They are working hard to cut back the benefits and salaries of those who remain in the labs' work force.

They will soon authorize the construction of new buildings. However, the funding to put up these buildings will be secured by laying off more loyal lab workers.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. NNSA and Congress are squeezing the labs from all angles and it's beginning to show. This latest petty example of suing Los Alamos County for a minor incident is just another instance of the Big Squeeze.

Anonymous said...

Suing LA County is just a ploy to divert overhead payroll for Lab Legal and Business Operations folks. It will cost more to sue than it would have to just fix the damage in the first place...that is if LANS actually uses the money recovered from the County to pay for the repair.

Anonymous said...

Yes, with LANS, it's all about the money, never about the science!

Anonymous said...

I have a question.

Were the firefighters drug tested?

If they would have been lab employees, you know they would have been dragged to the pissmobile for a test.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if another entity does you wrong, and the law provides recompense, then a lawsuit is your right. What's the problem? It's not like Los Alamos County has never screwed up before. Property damage qualifies, although since the property in question belongs to NNSA, I don't see why LANL is involved at all.

Anonymous said...

Check out this article from the Los Alamos Monitor. It seems as if the locals don't like what LANS is doing in this matter:

How did it come to this?

Anonymous said...

"Were the firefighters drug tested?" - 5/29/09 9:37 PM

Careful, you'll reap the wrath of the firefighter's union steward again!