Minnesota settles last 35W bridge case
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota's five-year legal battle over the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge has ended with an $8.9 million settlement involving a California design firm, which paid its final installment on Tuesday.
Chris Joyce, a Minnesota Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said the settlement is a final chapter in the 35W legal saga.
"It ends all litigation dealing with the collapse of the 35W bridge," Joyce said.
The deal was struck in October, but wasn't publicized. The Associated Press learned of the settlement through a disclosure of pending cases the state makes ahead of bond sales.
Thirteen people died and 145 more were injured when the highway bridge buckled and fell into the Mississippi River during an August rush-hour.
A Minneapolis attorney who represented Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. referred calls for comment to a company executive. The executive didn't immediately return a phone call or email. As part of the settlement, Jacobs admitted no wrongdoing but said it was done to head off continued legal expense and protracted litigation.
Jacobs had earlier pushed to have the case dismissed. It argued that state law put a 10-year limit on liability and noted the state had a 1962 contract with the bridge's designer, a now-defunct company that Jacobs acquired in 1999. But state courts let the lawsuit proceed; the U.S. Supreme Court turned down the company's final appeal in May. The settlement money will go into the state's general fund.
Like others, the latest settlement helped reimburse Minnesota taxpayers for the I-35W Survivor Compensation Fund, said Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler, who helped establish the fund for collapse victims who agreed not to sue the state.
"We can never change what happened on that terrible day, but fortunately we were able to come together and ensure that the survivors were given help to try to somehow rebuild their lives," Winkler said in a statement.
Federal investigators determined an original design flaw was a key factor that doomed the bridge.
After the collapse, the state also sued URS Corp., an engineering company that was evaluating the bridge before it fell. The sides settled that case for $5 million settlement to avert a trial, which could have opened URS to punitive damages. Neither side admitted any liability or fault.
Separate from its state payment, URS settled lawsuits brought by survivors and the families of those killed for more than $52 million. The state also set up a special $36.6 million compensation fund for those impacted.
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