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Firm that Designed FIU Bridge that Collapsed Last Year Wasn’t Qualified

The firm that reviewed the design of a Miami university bridge that collapsed and killed six people last year was accidentally listed in a Florida state report as qualified for that type of project even when it wasn’t, federal documents show.

The National Transportation Safety Board released nearly 6,300 pages of reports Tuesday examining the role of each contractor in the construction of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University that collapsed March 15, 2018 onto eight cars.

NTSB says the Florida Department of Transportation listed the company Louis Berger Group, Inc. on a website-generated report as prequalified to evaluate the construction of a complex concrete bridge. FDOT told investigators it was a “technical error” on its website, as the company was not actually allowed to review that project.

In emails between FDOT representatives and an NTSB investigator, the state’s transportation department said firms involved in the project should not have simply relied on the website as proof of Louis Berger’s credentials, and should have done their own due diligence, such as seeing an actual letter of qualification from the state.

The level of qualification for that project required companies to have at least three professional engineers registered with the Florida State Board of Professional Engineers, and a minimum of five years of structural concrete bridge design experience.

FDOT told NTSB that Louis Berger never received the qualification that pedestrian bridge required. The company lost a qualification it had for less complex bridge designs in December 2016 because they lost some of their engineers.

The company that designed the bridge, FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. said in a response to NTSB findings that there was no disclosure on the state website saying firms shouldn’t rely on its website.

A report by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration had already revealed that the bridge suffered extensive cracking in the days before the collapse because of a “deficient” structural design. Engineers had knowledge of extensive cracking and failed to order the closure of the busy highway 11 miles (18 kilometers) west of downtown Miami, investigators said.

Will Watts, FDOT’s chief engineer, said in a Sept. 20 letter to NTSB “the road should have been completely closed to all traffic if the contractor was undertaking activities that posed a risk to the public.”

FIGG employees evaluated the cracks and said they didn’t find safety concerns.

A Federal Highway Administration assessment released with the trove of documents on Tuesday found that FIGG “made significant errors,” in its design calculations, leading to cracking that wasn’t properly addressed.

The project was designed to look like a cable-stayed bridge, with steel pipes branching out from a tall mast. But it was never completed. Contractors used a method that avoids disrupting traffic by building bridge spans offsite and then transporting them to the location in a matter of hours.

Engineers began noticing cracks soon after the 174-foot-long (53-meter) span was put in place on March 10, 2018, days before the collapse. A crew was on the bridge working on tightening a diagonal beam the day it collapsed onto traffic.

NTSB will discuss the findings at an Oct. 22 public board meeting that’s intended to determine the probable cause of the collapse.

Bridge inspection, repair, and construction entails a variety of serious hazards for all types of individuals, including engineers, inspectors, construction workers, equipment operators, contractors, and even pedestrians, as this case shows. Accidents that happen involving bridges being built or repaired can usually be blamed on the use of heavy machinery and equipment and safety standards being disregarded or ignored. In some cases, the bridges being built or repaired cannot handle the weight of the equipment being used, which can result in a catastrophic accident. Workers and innocent bystanders can be injured or killed due to the blatant disregard for safety procedures. 

Most construction site accidents should be avoided by having properly trained employees following the proper safety guidelines. Following these standards can mean the difference between life and death. Anyone that is injured because of a bridge collapse can be entitled to financial compensation for those injuries. 

The family members of victims killed in construction accidents or bridge collapses are also entitled to financial relief when an accident happens in the South Florida area. They may be able to recover for damages including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, funeral costs, and any other losses they encounter due to the negligence of a construction site or its employees.

If you or a loved one was injured in a South Florida bridge collapse, our South Florida Catastrophic Injury and Death Claims Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to help you through this difficult time. We specialize in personal injury and wrongful death litigation and want to make sure you receive just compensation for your losses. 

 

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