The litigation has arrived: The state is suing Seattle Tunnel Partners over Bertha.
The litigation has arrived: The state is suing Seattle Tunnel Partners over Bertha. WSDOT

There's very little information to go on at the moment—as we don't yet have a copy of the complaint*—but here's what we do know: The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is suing Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), the state's contractor for Bertha's $2 billion tunnel.

In what has to be one of the most stunning WSDOT Friday news dumps of all time, WSDOT posted this information to its website at 4:40 p.m., 10 minutes after the King County Superior Court clerk's office had closed:

Today, WSDOT filed a lawsuit against STP in King County Superior Court. This filing was prompted by recent court filings by STP and their insurance companies. Filing this lawsuit ensures WSDOT will have a right to make legal claims in the future. This lawsuit does not prevent STP from pursuing claims under the terms of the design-build contract.

Taking action to preserve WSDOT’s rights in court was a necessary step. Our focus remains on completing the project, and removing the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct. We intend to ask for a stay of WSDOT’s lawsuit until the project is completed and asked STP to join us in this request.

This delay in the lawsuit will allow for work on the SR 99 Tunnel Project to be completed before litigation takes place.

The intent of today’s action is simple: protect the interests of Washington taxpayers.

There will be no further statements on this legal matter.

New information about the true costs of long-broken Bertha was revealed in a separate lawsuit against STP this week. In August, eight insurers sued STP in New York State Supreme Court to avoid paying $143 million for Bertha's extensive, two-year repair process. On Wednesday, the Puget Sound Business Journal reported that a letter had been added to a lawsuit's docket showing that the state could lose an additional $78 million because of costs related to Bertha's hiatus.

*UPDATE: Here's a copy of the complaint we weren't able to access through the court website earlier. The first part of the lawsuit alleges that STP is responsible for Bertha's two-year breakdown and that the state is entitled to damages. The second part of the lawsuit says that the state is entitled to a judge's ruling preventing STP from pursuing damages against the state.

Lars Erickson, WSDOT communications director, e-mailed to add that the timing of the news had nothing to do with it being late on a Friday afternoon. "We sent the statement after the complaint was filed and we could make the proper notifications," he wrote in an e-mail. "No other considerations were made. This was not a 'Friday News Dump.' I'm sure you understand it would be inappropriate for WSDOT to comment before it was filed."