Who Is Responsible In a Bridge Collapse and What Should You Do?
Most people take bridges for granted. After all, if the infrastructure of Venice (which is centuries old and literally submerged in water) is still standing, surely modern bridges are safe. Especially for city dwellers, bridges are a dime a dozen and an important part of the daily commute.
But sometimes our engineering systems fail to account for every variable, and bridges collapse as a result. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association estimates that nearly a third of all bridges in the US are in need of repair or replacement. With more than 150 million annual crossings on 40,000+ American bridges, this estimate is frightening.
So, what factors lead up to a bridge collapse, and who is legally responsible for the damage that ensues?
How and Why Do Bridges Collapse?
Most of the research suggests that states are aware of issues with infrastructure. As expected, the funds to repair and replace all of the insufficient bridges simply do not exist. In fact, some research estimates that it would cost trillions of dollars to properly overhaul the bridge infrastructure in the United States.
Factors that contribute to bridge collapses include:
- Lack of regular inspections
- Over maximum capacity
- Insufficient materials for the type of weather in the area
- Natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes)
- Design flaws and defects
- Boat collisions
- Construction accidents
Any one of these factors could result in a catastrophic collapse, and even the smallest errors can cause them. If construction calculations are slightly off, they can compromise the structural integrity of the entire bridge.
Oftentimes, after a collapse, the source of the problem is hard to determine. Whether it be faulty cables, loose screws, or incorrect construction materials, the damage caused by the accident can mask these issues. Sometimes the root cause is simply the bridge’s age or overuse.
Knowing why bridges collapse is important for multiple reasons:
- It helps prevent the same issues in the future (if a new bridge replaces the old one).
- It holds any negligent parties responsible for the damage, injuries, etc.
- It allows bridge engineering to improve and advance so bridges become safer.
Without specific information regarding why the bridge collapsed, it is difficult to pinpoint the source of the issue or the party responsible. That is why, in many cases, bridge collapse lawsuits typically have many responsible parties involved.
Who is Responsible If a Bridge Collapses?
Establishing liability in a bridge collapse case can be difficult if the root cause is unknown. Figuring out how and why an accident occurs can take years, but it is an important process.
There are many parties who may be liable in the case of a bridge collapse:
- Design Company: the company that designed the bridge is usually involved. They have to explain and defend the design concept itself, accounting for elements like expected foot traffic, environmental probabilities, and more.
- Builder: the company that builds the bridge is expected to defend its construction. They will most likely have to provide evidence that the process was done on a realistic timeline (not rushed) and done properly. They will likely defend the process, workers, and materials used to construct the bridge.
- Inspectors: any businesses that performed an inspection or regular maintenance checks would be involved in the investigation. Lawyers look for any signs that the company was negligent in its duty to properly analyze and diagnose life-threatening system failures. They also look to see whether the company conducted the checks and documented them accordingly.
After reviewing all of the evidence, there may be an obvious conclusion as to who is liable. For example, if a bridge was 70 years old and crumbling but passed inspection, the inspection company would most likely have to pay. Given the bridge’s age, it’s less likely that the contractor or designer would have any liability.
While some of these cases involve motorist bridges, others involve pedestrian bridges. These types of structures are increasingly popular in urban areas, especially college campuses where students need to walk quickly to various areas.
In 2018, however, a tragedy occurred when one of these pedestrian bridges collapsed unexpectedly less than a week after it was initially built. The event, which happened in Florida, gained national media attention as investigators tried to determine the root cause.
Florida International University (Miami) Bridge Collapse of 2018
On March 15th, 2018, a pedestrian bridge at the Florida International University campus in Miami collapsed. This came as a surprise given that the bridge was being advertised as an “instant bridge,” or a bridge that is built simply and quickly so that workers can continue adding to it without disrupting traffic.
Initially, the bridge was supposed to hold the weight of workers who would continue to build onto the structure. On the morning of the incident, however, the bridge collapsed onto 8th Street (Tamiami Trail) while cars below were stopped at a red light.
This trapped many of the vehicles and sent active workers falling along with the structure. The bridge’s collapse onto the highway beneath it ended up killing five motorists and one construction worker. An additional ten workers were injured during the incident. The original plan was to work on the bridge over several months before allowing the public to use it.
A federal investigation determined that the probable cause of this bridge collapse was an engineering mistake. The FIGG failed to identify and report structural cracking that could be observed before the collapse and failed to obtain an independent peer review of the plan to address this issue.
Am I Eligible to File a Bridge Collapse Lawsuit?
Our legal team at SteinLaw is ready and able to help any victims of a bridge collapse. If you have been injured, the next few years are going to be rough physically, and legal proceedings only add to that stress.
Unlike many of our competitors in the state of Florida, we make sure our clients have direct access to our attorneys. One of our top priorities is making sure that our clients feel supported and treated like human beings.
We understand that you would not be seeking help from our firm if you had not suffered through enough already, and we want to make the legal process as painless as possible. To find out more about how we can assist you with any personal injuries, contact us today by clicking here or calling 305-930-8176.