Bridges are not supposed to collapse in 2018, but that is exactly what happened to the Florida International University Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that provided an entrance to the university over Miami’s Southwest 8th Street. And now people are dead.
Several people have lost their lives, many are injured, and more may still be trapped under the rubble. When a bridge collapses under normal conditions, it is almost certain that somebody didn’t do their job right.
Over $14.2 million changed hands during the construction of the bridge. The companies that landed this coveted contract were MCM and FIGG, two well-known Florida construction firms that often secure government contracts in the area. Both firms had had a history of collapsing bridges, and experts have questioned their method of “accelerated” installation of the bridge. Still, they got the contract. And now people are dead.
I have seen some shocking corporate conduct in construction litigation, and I have seen the devastation that resulted. I believe we Floridians have a right to answers. This bridge was supposed to be safe, and it was paid for with taxpayer money. And now people are dead.
And although it is too late to save those lives, we are asking these questions to help prevent future collapses.
1. Did MCM and FIGG’s track record make them ideal candidates for the job?
Would you hire an architect who just built a house on your block if you saw that house collapse?
Let’s take a look at MCM:
Miami-Dade Civil Court accused MCM on March 5 of building a “makeshift bridge” which ultimately collapsed, severely injuring a TSA employee at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where the company is working on a large-scale expansion project.
The victim, Jose Perez, said the bridge fell under his weight. According to a spokesperson for Perez, “They built this makeshift bridge in the area where all the employees work, and it was poorly done. He fell and hurt himself really badly. He had multiple broken bones and damage to his spine… They did shoddy work.”
Figg is no stranger to collapsing bridges either. In June 2012, a bridge they were building in Virginia collapsed while workers were installing a section comprising 90 tons of concrete. The bridge dropped 40 feet, landing on railroad tracks. Figg was lucky that time, because nobody was killed. Nevertheless, four Figg employees were injured. “They were fortunate that the injuries were not more serious,” a representative of the Department of Labor and Industry told reporters at the time.
The company was fined $28,000, as the state of Virginia found it had violated numerous safety rules, including doing insufficient inspections, modifying a part without notifying its manufacturer, providing insufficient training about the use of specific equipment, and not adhering to several maintenance and repair requirements.
2. Was the Accelerated One-Day installation method safe?
At the time of installation, FIU sources said, “This method… reduces potential risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians and minimizes traffic interruptions. The main span of the FIU-Sweetwater University City Bridge was installed in a few hours with limited disruption to traffic over this weekend.”
But a University of Buffalo professor was not so sure about the safety of the accelerated method. In a statement to the press, Professor Amjad Aref, of the University’s Department of Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering, said: “The idea is that you can build small- to mid-size bridges very quickly, sometimes within hours. But until all the pieces are put together to transmit the loads safely to the foundations, these bridges may suffer disproportionate or full collapse due to instability.”
3. Was the bridge built with high-quality materials and parts?
4. Were any parts altered without notifying the manufacturer?
5. Was safety monitoring adequate?
6. Were the engineers and workers involved in the construction sufficiently qualified?
7. Was there adequate training in place for using new equipment?
8. Did the companies put profits over safety while designing and building the bridge?
9. Were there any internal communications citing safety concerns within the companies?
10. Did the government assess the risks of hiring companies whose bridges had repeatedly collapsed to build the FIU bridge?
We need answers to these questions. And the victims and their families deserve answers. Because in America, in 2018, nobody should be killed by a collapsing bridge.
John Uustal is a Florida trial attorney specializing in serious injury and wrongful death caused by uncaring corporations bypassing safety in the interest of profits.