Back in January 2008, over 2 and 1/2 years ago, NTSB safety inspectors issued a report indicating that the cause of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, which collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 and injuring 145 people, was a faulty design. Apparently, 24 metal support plates were too thin to serve as a junction of several girders on a 40 year old bridge that had "gained weight" over time. How does a bridge "gain weight", you ask? Because repairs and installations over time add additional concrete layers to the existing structure, causing it to become heavier than the original load specifications. Since this subject metal plate was already a thin design, the increased weight added strain to the "weak spot". Subsequent inspections over time failed to discover this fatal weakness.
Added to these facts and issues of potential destruction, were 111 vehicles in rush hour traffic and construction equipment on the bridge at the time; all of this resulted in tragedy, as the vehicles were dropped 108 feet into 15 foot deep water.
Yesterday, the final chapter of a multi-million dollar legal battle was closed, when URS Corporation agreed to a $52 Million settlement with the victims. This brings the total payout from all defendants to $100 Million and closes a dark chapter in Minnesota history.
Other attorneys and various news sources have written articles reporting the settlement. It sounds like a lot of money, doesn’t it? Well, when you divide by the number of victims and multiply by the violations of safety, it is not much at all. And, in the reports that I have read on the settlement, I am struck by two issues that are hardly discussed at all.
The first is that URS is not admitting liability. Why not? How about an admission of liability and an "I’m sorry" to all the people seriously injured or to the families whose loved ones perished in this very preventable bridge collapse. The original complaint indicated that while URS did not design the bridge, it was responsible for the task of inspecting, analyzing and evaluating its’ soundness. URS was the state’s main consultant on this bridge span and held three contracts to inspect and suggest modifications. It assured the state of its assessment expertise. There is still litigation pending between URS and a company that acquired the firm that originally designed the bridge; perhaps URS is concerned that an admission of liability would, somehow, effect the outcome of that lawsuit. However, an admission and an apology is in order here; it probably would have resulted in a smaller settlement and would have provided needed closure for the families. Money won’t repair broken bones or broken hearts.
The other minor issue that has not been "highlighted" is that a hero, attorney Chris Messerly, has, apparently, handled the cases of 103 victims on a "pro bono" basis. What does "pro bono" mean? It means that this caring man has handled these cases, at considerable expense in time and money, for free. That kind gesture represents the forgiveness of millions in contingency fees for his clients. Most of the victims have indicated that divisions of the proceeds will make no one rich, won’t repair serious injuries and won’t bring back lost loved ones. Tort reform advocates love to argue that "the lawyers get rich" on these cases. Here is a case of multiple, catastrophic, injury and death with a multi-million dollar pay-out. A lawyer worked for free, no client got rich, and the perpetrator, which refused to admit wrongdoing and, instead, sued a defunct designer, did not learn its lesson. Tort reform anyone?
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit FinancialCorporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed for pending personal injury litigants.. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.