Cyclist Files First Lawsuit Over Florida Bridge Collapse

(CN) – A bicyclist injured by the Florida International University bridge collapse filed the first lawsuit relating to the tragedy on Monday.

The case likely heralds the beginning of a wave of litigation over the March 15 incident, which killed six people and injured nine others.

According to the complaint, Marquise Rashaad Hepburn, 24, pedaled under the pedestrian bridge just as a 174-foot span plummeted onto the traffic below. A motorist swerved to avoid the falling concrete and hit Hepburn’s bicycle.

The complaint, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, alleges the companies involved in the bridge’s design and construction “drastically deviated” from safety protocols.

The negligence suit names FIGG Bridge Engineers and Munilla Construction Management, which designed and constructed the bridge; Bolton Perez & Associates, which provided engineering and inspection services; and Louis Berger U.S., a New Jersey company responsible for performing a secondary review of the bridge’s design. Florida International University is not named.

The companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, but have expressed dismay in statements released after the collapse.

“We will fully cooperate with every appropriate authority in reviewing what happened and why,” FIGG Bridge Engineers said in a statement. “In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before. Our entire team mourns the loss of life and injuries associated with this devastating tragedy, and our prayers go out to all involved.”

Munilla Construction Management deactivated their social media accounts last week, but released a statement pledging cooperation with investigators. Bolton Perez & Associates released a similar statement.

The 33-page complaint details specific actions that may have prevented the tragedy, such as re-routing traffic during the stress tests performed on the afternoon of the collapse.

“The risk to pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and construction workers could easily have been mitigated by re-routing traffic using the traffic plans in force during span transportation,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit also points to a voicemail left by the project’s lead engineer to a Florida Department of Transportation official on March 13. In the voicemail, engineer Denney Pate described cracks visible in the bridge, but did not seem too concerned.

“Um, so, uh, we’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done,” Pate said, according to a transcript released by FDOT, “but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that.”

Hepburn is represented by Matt Morgan of the Orlando-based Morgan & Morgan.

“If we assume the facts that have been reported are true, then it appears as if the building team might have had knowledge that the bridge was in a dangerous condition and did not close the roadway, re-route traffic and ultimately a failure resulted,” Morgan said at a press conference on Monday.

Morgan also announced he would file another lawsuit on Tuesday for another survivor whose car was crushed by the bridge.

“We look forward to getting to the bottom of what actually happened,” Morgan said.

The National Transportation Safety Board and Florida Department of Transportation are investigating the bridge collapse. Miami-Dade Police Department announced a criminal investigation into who may be responsible.

Students returned to Florida International University on Monday after the spring break recess. The university held a moment of silence at 1:47 p.m. and plan a vigil later in the week.

“We know this will be a difficult week,” said FIU president Mark Rosenberg in a statement. “We want to come together as a community to mourn, show the victims’ families our support and start on the path toward healing.”

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