Skip to comments.35W bridge lawsuit: Engineering company predicted bridge collapse
Posted on 06/28/2010 4:31:13 PM PDT by Extremely Extreme Extremist
MINNEAPOLIS -- Explosive documents about the Interstate 35W bridge suggest the engineering company the state hired to make sure the bridge was safe actually predicted it would collapse months before it fell apart.
The documents are part of a lawsuit victims are bringing against California based URS Corporation. They accuse the firm of predicting a catastrophic event, but allegedly not telling anyone about it.
The thought has been tough to swallow for the victims of that day in August 2007, when 13 people lost their lives and well over 100 were injured.
"I remember until probably about 5:15 that day," says Paula Coulter. She has no memory of crashing 65 feet or dangling upside down in her van when the 35W bridge collapsed. Nearly three years later, she still lives with the physical effects of the day everything changed.
"Physically I am not who I used to be. I move around well, but I don't move around like I'm normal," says Paula.
Coulter suffered a brain injury, broken bones and spent weeks in the hospital. She is now concerned about new allegations the collapse might have been prevented.
In 2003, the Minnesota Department of Transportation hired URS to consult state officials on the structural integrity of the bridge and to make sure the aging structure was safe.
Now as part of the suit, Paula Coulter's attorneys are asking the court for permission to seek punitive damages, alleging that URS engineers knew the bridge was unsafe years before the disaster.
They point to three critical documents filed with their motion on Monday.
The first document is an inspection sheet filled out by the lead URS engineer for the 35W bridge project more than four years before the bridge fell. The word 'catastrophic' is written in the margin of the document. It is unclear what the notation refers to.
There is also a chain of emails written just 11 months before the collapse. The emails between URS engineers note that the bridge was 'clearly over stressed', suggesting that if a crack developed in a critical bridge component 'collapse could be imminent...even though the analysis says a crack is unlikely.'
In addition, attorneys say URS photographed bent gusset plates as far back as 2003 but allegedly didn't calculate the safety impact of all the gusset plates because it was 'too much work...although that provides the most accurate results', according to another URS memo.
Attorneys also allege URS used the wrong mathematical formula to calculate the danger of seized roller bearings, the parts that allowed the bridge to expand and contract with heat and cold.
"It's a case, sadly, of a multinational corporation putting profits before people. They knew the bridge was going to fall. They knew it was dangerous. They wrote that down and didn't tell anyone. To the contrary they told the state that the bridge was safe and they knew it wasn't," says Chris Messerly, Paula Coulter's attorney.
"I think it's sad....My life has changed forever because of it," says Paula.
The documents were among millions URS handed over to the victims as part of the lawsuit.
KARE 11 did try to contact URS, but our calls were not returned.
Mn/DOT officials there tell KARE 11 they can't comment about ongoing litigation.
They were out to get you with their profits Paula.
The attorneys are there to help you however.
I was an accomplice by saving myself from your demise by crossing that bridge an hour before it collapsed.
Sue me too.
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