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Builder of collapsed Cowboys facility had past issues, court records show

Court records show the company that built the collapsed Dallas Cowboys training facility also manufactured at least three other buildings that have fallen in heavy weather since 2002.

DALLAS -- Court records show the company that built the collapsed Dallas Cowboys training facility also manufactured at least three other buildings that have fallen in heavy weather since 2002.

The other tentlike facilities manufactured by Allentown, Pa.-based Summit Structures LLC or its related company, Cover-All Building Systems, were warehouse-type buildings in Philadelphia and upstate New York and an indoor arena for horse competition in Oregon. All the buildings fell in weather conditions that included heavy snow, according to records and interviews.

A Summit spokeswoman didn't immediately return a call or e-mail seeking comment Wednesday.

The collapse of the Cowboys' facility in heavy winds Saturday left 12 people injured, including a 33-year-old scouting assistant who is paralyzed from the waist down. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an investigation into the incident.

Scouting assistant Rich Behm, whose spine was severed in the accident, remains at Parkland Hospital, along with special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who had surgery to repair vertebrae in his neck. Assistant athletic trainer Greg Gaither, who suffered a broken leg, was released Wednesday from Baylor University Medical Center, the team said.

Beth Hungiville, executive director of the Lightweight Structures Association, said four of the membrane-style buildings collapsing in seven years is far from normal.

"That is certainly very unusual," she said. "You would not usually find that many failures in that short a time."

Hungiville said her organization, an industry group, was aware of the Philadelphia collapse, which occurred just four months before work began on the Cowboys' facility, but it didn't know about the others until the last few days. The other accidents likely didn't attract widespread attention before the failure of the Cowboys' structure because they didn't involve injuries, Hungiville said.

"When people aren't hurt or there's no one inside (the building), these incidents can go under the radar," she said.

The collapse of the Cowboys facility, built in 2003 and upgraded in 2008, has focused attention on Summit as well as Cover-All, which is based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Summit sells and sometimes installs structures fabricated by Cover-All, according to court testimony from Nathan Stobbe, Summit's president.

When a Summit structure covering freight for the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority collapsed in February 2003, it spawned a lengthy court battle that ended with a jury awarding the port more than $3.4 million. The building collapsed because of failure of the design to account for snow buildup on the roof, according to a judge's ruling.

Another lawsuit, which has yet to be resolved, centers on the collapse of a building built for storing ice-melting chemicals in Fort Plain, N.Y. The suit, filed by the insurance carrier for the company that owned the building, states that Cover-All's negligence caused the building to fall when its membrane was ripped during a snowstorm in February 2007.

"Our claim is, 'This is upstate New York. Every few years, you're going to get a blizzard. Don't sell us this product and say it can withstand this sort of thing when it can't'," said William Mullin, the attorney for the plaintiff, Hanover Insurance Co.

The Oregon case arose after a rancher had a Cover-All facility built on his property for dressage competition. The 15,840-square-foot building collapsed in January 2002 under the weight of snow that was "substantially" less than the capacity to which the structure was built, according to the lawsuit, which has since been settled.

The rancher, James Webb, said the building's collapse damaged a boat and other equipment.

"If my wife had been in there giving instruction or something, it would have been disastrous," he said.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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