Cowboys aren't targeted as litigation over facility collapse begins

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by By BROOKS EGERTON / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on July 8, 2009 at 9:37 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 3:37 PM

Litigation over the Dallas Cowboys practice facility collapse is about to begin.

But there's no official sign that anyone is targeting the team.

Cowboys scouting assistant Rich Behm, the most seriously injured victim, has hired high-profile Dallas lawyer Frank Branson. Branson asked a Dallas County court late last month to order a pre-litigation deposition of Nathan Stobbe, president of facility builder Summit Structures and its parent, Cover-All Building Systems.

Court records show that the attorney also asked for the Canada-based company's records on the tent-like facility, which came crashing down during a thunderstorm May 2. Behm was paralyzed below the waist; 11 others suffered less serious injuries.

Judge Sally Montgomery has taken no action on the petition, and no lawsuit has been filed. But Branson said Stobbe had already submitted to questioning voluntarily.

Branson said he had received some documents, too.

"The defendants at this time seem to be cooperating," he said. "I'd like to get this case up and running as smoothly as possible for everybody's sake."

Branson declined to discuss what Stobbe said in the deposition. Nor would he release any documents.

Stobbe's spokeswoman in Dallas, Laurey Peat, had no comment Tuesday. The company has also declined to release any documents to The Dallas Morning News.

Stobbe has sought to focus attention on the severe weather that hit Irving on May 2. There was a downdraft with winds that the National Weather Service says were about 70 mph near the ground and possibly higher, by an unknown amount, near the top of the 85-foot-tall structure.

The Irving building code required the building to be strong enough to withstand a 90 mph gust.

Branson said he cannot sue the Cowboys because Behm is covered by workers' compensation. That, he said, "is a total and complete bar to any suit" against the team.

The Cowboys knew when they hired Stobbe's firm in 2003 that another big tent it built had recently collapsed in Philadelphia, shortly after opening. A lawsuit in that case exposed major engineering errors and other problems with the builder, as The News detailed last month.

Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple also said in an e-mail that the team had no comment. He has also previously declined to answer any questions related to the facility.

Branson said he will seek other depositions soon. He would not identify the people he plans to question.

The lawyer said he represents no other victims of the collapse. The News has found no legal filings by anyone other than Behm.

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