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January 17, 2008

Minnesota Bridge Collapse Result of Design Flaw?

A National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) investigation has preliminarily concluded that the August 1, 2007 collapse of the Interstate-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota into the Mississippi River was due to a flaw in the bridge's original design and that there were no indications that faulty inspections or maintenance played a role.  The bridge collapsed during rush hour on August 1, 2007, involving about 100 cars and resulting 13 deaths and 145 additional injuries.  The report concluded that steel gussest plates joining the steel girders were too thin - a half-inch thick instead of an inch thick.  NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker's announcement of the agency's findings thus far also emphasized that the investigation will not be complete for several months and that the findings are by no means final.  His report was immediately critisized by lawyers for many of the victims as well as others. 

If NTSB's report of the cause turns out to be correct, it appears that the state and its transportation agency may be off the liability hook.  In any event, the state and its agencies have fairly broad statutory immunity from liaibility for discretionary activities made at the planning level.  Moreover, the state's liability is capped at $1 million for any number of claims arising out of a single accident under the statute that allows tort claims against the state.  Lawsuits against private parties, including the engineering firm that designed the bridge, face a substantial obstacle in the form of Minnesota's ten-year statute of repose for actions to recover for personal injury, wrongful death, or property damages arising out of the design, construction, or maintenance of an improvement to real property.  The bridge was designed and built more than 40 years ago.


January 17, 2008 | Permalink


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