OSHA Report Says Collapse of FIU Pedestrian Bridge Could Have Been Avoided

After the pedestrian bridge collapse that ended the lives of 15 Floridians last March, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted an investigation to determine the ultimate cause of the collapse. The Pedestrian bridge was part of FIU’s University City Prosperity Project with the goal being to improve the school’s infrastructure. The initiative included the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the SW 8th Street near SW 109th Avenue to expedite movement of students from the adjoining City of Sweetwater to the FIU campus. The results of that investigation were recently published in a 115-page report that concludes that the engineer of record, FIGG Bridge Engineers (FIGG) failed to recognize that the bridge was in danger of collapsing even after inspecting the bridge just a few hours before the collapse. The report includes several detailed pictures that show cracks in the bridge. Additionally, the report concludes that the bridge collapsed due to deficient structural design. The report also attributes fault to Network Engineering Services, Inc. d/b/a Bolton Perez & Associates Inc. (BPA) who was retained by FIU to serve as the construction engineer and inspector on the project. In the report, OSHA states that BPA failed to follow Florida Department of Transportation requirements by not recognizing the cracks on the bridge as structural in nature. Overall, the OSHA report concludes that with the knowledge of the cracks in the bridge, if the companies involved in the project would have notified FDOT in time, this unfortunate accident could have been avoided.

Premises liability Due to Injuries Caused by Defective Bridges

There is a great deal of speculation regarding the rapid-design technique used to construct the FIU Pedestrian bridge which is called Accelerated Bridge Construction or (ABC). In fact, many experts blame the technique for the collapse. Ultimately, the ABC method was used to shorten installation time and reduce safety issues to pedestrians and motorists. Bridges run the gamut from those over small creeks to those over rivers. General tort law principles apply to all claims alleging defective design, construction, or maintenance of bridges which lead to personal injuries or property damage. Injuries caused by defects in bridges, such as the lack or insufficiency of guardrails, or defective flooring, and injuries incurred in the collapse of a bridge due to defects in its structure, may provide a ground for recovery if the plaintiff can establish the defendant’s knowledge, actual or constructive, of the danger existing by reason of the defects.

Who Can Be Held Liable for the FIU Bridge Collapse?

Generally, all private actors involved in the construction of a bridge have a duty to properly construct the bridge so that persons may travel over them without any danger. The primary focus of who is liable usually turns on who had retained control and/or had actually exercised control over the bridge construction. For example, one who has contracted with a city owning a bridge to maintain and keep it in repair may be held liable for injury resulting from his or her negligence in failing to provide safety devices. Similarly, where a person is hurt on a bridge while a company is in possession of the bridge for the purpose of repairing it or constructing the bridge under a contract with the owner of the bridge, the company is liable to the injured person for damages for injuries that are the proximate result of the company’s negligence. Additionally, when a bridge is owned or maintained by the state, a county, or a municipality, then issues relating to sovereign and qualified immunity arise. In this instance, there are many potential defendants. The responsible parties could range from the builder, engineer, architect, city, state and any other parties who were contracted to work on the bridge. In Florida, a contractor who constructs, maintains, or repairs a bridge or other transportation facility for the Department of Transportation is not liable for personal injury, property damage, or death arising from the performance of the construction, maintenance, or repair if, at the time of the personal injury, property damage, or death, the contractor was in compliance with contract documents material to the condition that was the proximate cause of the personal injury, property damage, or death. This means the companies which built and designed the bridge, simply have to show they were in compliance with the terms of their contracts to avoid liability. However, When the proximate cause of the personal injury, property damage, or death is a latent condition, defect, error, or omission that was created by the contractor, liability may be attributed to the contractor. The OSHA investigation report becomes particularly important here because it concludes that the companies involved caused the collapse by not following protocol and building a bridge that was structurally deficient.

Have You or a loved one been injured by another’s Negligence?

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