Legal Ramifications of the Miami Bridge Collapse
“It will last a hundred years,” they said. They said the bridge was constructed as an “engineering feat” and a “model for the future with safety at the forefront.” But, five days after it was installed using the innovative methods of construction and installation, the pedestrian bridge over a portion of Southwest Eighth Street in Miami collapsed.
Witnesses reported that the crashing of the bridge at around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 15, 2018, “felt like an earthquake.” At the time, numerous vehicles had been stopped at a red light directly underneath the bridge. There was no time for escape as the victims were crushed in their cars under the weight of the 174-foot, 950-ton bridge. It was not until four days later that the last two human beings could be extracted from their unexpected death chambers. In total, six people were killed and many more were injured.
All across the country, bridge designers and builders, official organizations like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and average people who walk across or drive under bridges, are asking, what happened. What went wrong? Is there recourse for those who were injured and for the survivors of those who were killed?
Innovative Construction of the Bridge: Doomed to Fail?
The bridge building project was headed by the architecture firm of Munilla Construction Management (MCM) which partnered with FIGG Bridge Engineers. The not-yet-open-to-the-public bridge was designed to provide a safe walkway between the Florida International University campus to the Sweetwater neighborhood where an estimated 4,000 students live.
According to a fact sheet issued by FIU, the bridge was built next to Southwest 8th Street using “Accelerated Bridge Construction methods” which were expected to reduce risk to “workers, commuters and pedestrians and minimize traffic interruptions.”
The ABC construction method involves the separate construction of pieces that are designed to work together when the structure is complete. This bridge was constructed away from the busy traffic area of the street it was designed to span.
After its construction alongside the multilane section of Southwest Eighth, and just after its move to span the road, the installation process was proclaimed to be “an engineering success.” It was the largest bridge ever to be moved into place by Self-Propelled Modular Transportation (SPMT).
SPMT requires the use of a large, flat-bed vehicle. Segments of the pre-constructed bridge are loaded onto the bed of the heavy machinery which then places the prebuilt bridge between the supports, then turns and hydraulically lifts the bridge into place. The movement into place of this bridge was done by Barnhart Crane and Rigging.
Three days after the bridge was put in place, and two days before its collapse, the lead engineer with FIGG left a voicemail for a state transportation official stating that he noticed “some cracking” on the “the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend.” However, the engineer said he did not believe it was a “safety issue.”
Just a few hours before the bridge collapsed, FIGG and MCM met to discuss the cracking. They agreed it needed to be repaired, but also concluded that “the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge.” Shortly after the meeting adjourned, the bridge fell.
As one designer of ABC projects, who was not involved in this particular bridge construction, commented, “the loss of stability is a sudden thing; it doesn’t give a warning.” That is certainly true of this collapse. The construction workers on the bridge, and the drivers waiting at the red light under the bridge, had no warning.
Potential Civil Liability
Less than 10 days after the bridge collapse, lawsuits had already been filed by the families of some who died, and by some who were injured. More are expected to come. The lawsuits allege negligence on the part of several entities responsible for the design, building and inspection of the bridge.
A person, business, or municipality is liable when its negligence results in the injuries and deaths of others. In this situation, there are a number of entities that, if found to be negligent, may be liable for personal injuries and property damage caused by the bridge collapse. possible defendants are:
- The state of Florida.
- The City of Miami.
- The company that designed the bridge.
- The lead architect overseeing the bridge building project and the company he worked for.
- The contractor and subcontractors who worked on the bridge.
- The company that moved the bridge into place.
- Any state or city agencies in charge of inspections and maintenance.
The lawsuits claim, among other things, that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) was negligent in failing to close the road once they were aware of the lead engineer’s observation of cracks in the bridge that needed to be repaired. It has also been revealed that, at the very time of the collapse, workers were adjusting the tension on two rods on the north end of the bridge, another reason why FDOT was negligent in failing to close the road.
If you were injured, or someone you love was killed, in this pedestrian bridge collapse, or any other type of accident, contact us at Kaire & Heffernan, LLC for a free consultation. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We also speak Spanish.
Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 15 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for 4 years.