Paula Coulter shook hands with Gov. Tim Pawlenty before he signed the bill creating the I-35W Bridge Victims Compensation Fund. Some of the survivors had tears in their eyes. Others simply looked relieved that the long negotiations had ended in a deal.
A close-knit coalition of Minneapolis bridge collapse victims watched Thursday as Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a $38 million package to compensate them for their injuries and losses. The ceremony at the State Capitol capped their nine-month fight for state help recovering from the Aug. 1 failure of the Interstate 35W bridge, which killed 13 people and injured 145.
“A GOOD START”: “Things will never be the same, but it will be a good start,” said Mercedes Gorden, who was bedridden for four months, has endured nine surgeries and faces at least one more to fix bones that were crushed.
Ron Engebretsen, who lost his wife, Sherry, in the collapse, said the state assistance will help in his emotional recovery. “By going through the process we have over the past few months, it really reinforces our belief in the state of Minnesota that we do the right thing here,” he said.
THE DETAILS: Everyone who was on the bridge when it fell would qualify for as much as $400,000. People whose injuries and losses were more severe could get additional money from a pool of $12.6 million. A panel of lawyers will determine the exact amount for each victim.
“The course and trajectory of the lives of the individuals here and their families were severely and unchangeably altered,” Pawlenty said. “We stand united today as a state to try to do the right thing.”
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said the fund was carefully designed to recognize the unique scope of the collapse while upholding fairness for other victims of government-involved accidents.
“Nothing we can do and nothing that we have done can alter for them what happened on Aug. 1, 2007,” he said.
“All we can do is come in after the fact and try to respond with money. It’s a poor substitute. But that’s what our justice system uses.”