May 5, 2008
Compensation Deal for Minnesota Bridge Collapse Victims
The Minnesota state legislature appears on the verge of approving a $38 million compensation package to settle the claims of victims of the 2007 collapse of the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, according to this AP story on law.com (via Point of Law):
Minnesota lawmakers reached agreement on a $38 million compensation package for victims of a deadly bridge collapse, culminating months of work to provide relief beyond the state's legal liability. The deal struck in a joint committee of the House and Senate will offer everyone who was on the bridge up to $400,000, with an additional $12.6 million pool for the people who suffered the most severe injuries and losses. Thirteen people died in the Aug. 1 collapse and 145 were hurt. ...
The package is expected to be approved by the Legislature on Monday and sent off to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who called it "needed relief and support" for victims.
If victims agreed to take the money, they would have to sign away their rights to sue the state and other governmental entities in Minnesota. They would not be precluded from suing other parties in the collapse. ...
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the collapse. Officials have focused on a design flaw involving gussets, the plates that help connect steel beams, and the weight of construction materials at vulnerable points in the bridge. Victim lawsuits are on hold until a final determination is made.
As a legislative decision to compensate disaster victims, the package bears a passing resemblance to the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund. It is better understood, however, as an ordinary mass tort settlement, in which a defendant (the state) offers to settle plaintiffs' claims against it. Unlike the 9/11 Fund, which used government funds but required participants to release their claims against the airlines and other private parties, the Minnesota deal apparently requires only the release of claims against the state, just like any other settlement offer by a defendant.
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