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Tragedy in Miami: Who is to blame?


On March 15, 2018, the pedestrian bridge being installed to connect Florida International University (FIU) and the city of Sweetwater collapsed onto traffic below. The bridge spanned 174 feet and weighed 960 tons; its collapse killed 6 people and injured 10 others, some critically. At the time of its collapse, the suspension cables on the bridge were being tightened.

In what is certainly tragic irony, the pedestrian bridge was being installed to boost safety on the busy roadway that separates FIU from Sweetwater. Last year, an FIU student was hit by a motor vehicle and killed when trying to cross the thoroughfare. The bridge was built with what is known as “accelerated bridge construction” methods, or “ABC.” ABC uses innovative design, materials and construction techniques to reduce the onsite construction time and impact on traffic that occurs when building new bridges or replacing and rehabilitating existing ones. What this typically means is that the entire superstructure of the bridge is built offsite and then put in place onsite. The method has become more popular in the last decade, and has been used to construct other bridges in the country (Tennessee had 10 bridges constructed using the ABC method in the past several years). In another ironic footnote, FIU hosts the Center for Accelerated Bridge Construction, a national center for education about and promotion of ABC.

The cause of the catastrophic collapse is still unknown. The National Transportation Safety Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and homicide detectives with the county police department are all investigating the collapse.


There are several possible causes of the bridge collapse, and these theories also apply to many accidents on roadways that cause injuries. The potential causes are: (1) design defects; (2) construction errors; and (3) materials defects. Because there are so many parts to any bridge or road project, there are typically many participants involved who may have or share liability. Using the FIU bridge collapse as an example, the bridge was designed by a private contractor called FIGG Bridge Engineers and a company called Munilla Construction Management, or MCM, built the bridge. Both companies were hired by FIU, and the Florida Department of Transportation had to approve permits and plans. Thus, several private sector companies may be liable for wrongful death and personal injury claims, as well as the entity which hired those companies (in this case the University); a governmental entity which may have approved faulty designs or materials may be liable as well. Construction projects like building a bridge or road create complex liability issues because they involve many stages, many materials, and many participants.


Although the FIU bridge collapse was a catastrophic incident that drew the nation’s attention, accidents happen constantly from design defects, construction errors, and material defects. These accidents may not be as attention-grabbing as a bridge collapse, but they nevertheless cause injury and in some cases, death, impacting the lives of thousands of people around the country. Common types of design defects that cause injuries and create liability are: poor shoulder design; deficient exit ramp/on ramp design; inadequate pedestrian walkways; and insufficient bike lanes. Some examples of materials defects can be using materials not up to code, or not able to withstand hurricane/tornado force winds in an area requiring that, or not appropriate for the task (e.g. a substance used to repair roads and potholes that does not withstand weight of trucks or the variation in weather). Construction errors include both the method and human error.

So if your attempt to exit the highway ends up causing a pileup, or if you swerve to miss that huge pot hole and hit the car in the next lane, it may be due to a design or material defect. If the guardrail failed to stop your car from careening into the valley below, it might be due to improper construction/installation. These defects or errors create liability on the part of the companies providing the work. Injuries from accidents caused by defects and construction errors can be severe, and recovery for medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering is crucial.


If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident caused by road or bridge issues, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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