Firm working on 35W bridge that collapsed says others at fault

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 11, 2009 - 8:59 PM

The construction company whose workers were resurfacing the I-35W bridge when it fell is suing the state and an engineering firm.

The construction company whose crews were resurfacing the Interstate 35W bridge when it fell is suing the state and the engineering firm connected to the original bridge designers, claiming they should be held responsible for any damages in the collapse.

Construction company Progressive Contractors Inc. (PCI) already is a defendant in four lawsuits brought by collapse victims in November. Wednesday, the company added MnDOT and Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. as defendants in those cases, claiming the state and the firm should have to pay any damages awarded against the construction company as well as pay the company's legal bills and losses it suffered in the collapse.

PCI's filing, called a third party complaint, claims that it wasn't in a position to know about the 40-year-old bridge's under-designed gusset plates. Federal investigators concluded that those plates were the primary cause of the collapse at 6:05 p.m. on Aug 1, 2007.

The suit alleges that the state had a duty to warn the company about the plates and that Jacobs, which acquired the bridge's original design consultant a decade ago, should be held responsible for the mis-design.

PCI is seeking several million dollars in damages, according to its Minneapolis attorney, Kyle Hart. One PCI worker, Greg Jolstad, died in the collapse and others were injured.

"We suffered grievously from the accident," Hart said. "We lost lots of money, lost lots of time and we paid out lots and lots of money to our employees for workers' compensation claims. We think we're entitled to get that back from the people who are actually responsible for the collapse."

A MnDOT spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. A call to Jacobs Engineering was not returned.

The victims' suits alleged in November that PCI was negligent in how it placed hundreds of tons of construction material on the bridge and removed sections of deck. The victims also sued a consulting firm, URS, hired from 2003 to 2007 to evaluate the bridge.

The victims did not name the state as a defendant, however, because the state's liability is limited to $300,000 per person or $1 million per incident. Some victims may receive more through a special compensation fund set up by the Legislature, but then must agree not to sue the state.

The state's statute of limitations would not allow the victims to sue Jacobs directly. But their attorney, James Schwebel, said he wasn't surprised that PCI is adding the engineering firm and the state to the legal action.

"One way or another, all of the key players will be in the lawsuit and that's appropriate so the jury can decide relative culpability of each of the four defendants," Schwebel said.

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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