National Transportation Safety Board Finds that Faulty Design Led to Minnesota Bridge Collapse; Dozens of Claims Filed

The National Transportation Safety Board said earlier this month that undersized gusset plates in the Interstate 35-W bridge in Minneapolis were “the critical factor” in the bridge collapse of August 1, 2007, that killed 13 people and injured 100. Chairman Mark Rosenker said the plates, which connected steel beams, were roughly half (1/2 inch rather and 1 inch) the thickness they should have been because of a design error. Investigators found 16 fractured gusset plates from the bridge’s center span, he said.

The NTSB’s final report is expected this fall. This past Sunday marked the 180 day deadline for filing a notice that a lawsuit is going to be brought against the state of Minnesota. The deadline for wrongful death filings is one year from the date of accident. Damages recoverable from the state are capped by law at $1,000,000.00.

Lawmakers are considering a compensation fund that would offer more to those who gave up the right to sue the state. Besides the state, other potential liable parties include a consultant that inspected the bridge, and the contractor that was resurfacing the span when it fell. The I-35W bridge was of a type called “fracture critical,” meaning that the failure of any major member would cause a collapse, because it had no redundancy. The design is lighter and less expensive to build, but has gradually fallen out of favor with highway departments.

The bridge was designed in the 1960s and lasted 40 years. But like most other bridges, it gradually gained weight during that period, as workers installed concrete structures to separate eastbound and westbound lanes and made other changes, adding strain to the weak spot. At the time of the collapse, crews had brought tons of equipment and material onto the deck for a repair job.

Shortly after the Minneapolis bridge collapse, New York State officials announced, on August 9, 2007, that some damage to the Throgs Neck Bridge showing advanced wear and tear was found during a routine biannual inspection.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters is expected to issue an advisory urging states to check the gusset plates when modifications are made to a bridge, such as changes to the weight of the bridge or adding a guardrail, said a federal official with knowledge of the plans. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Peters had not yet made the announcement.

Currently, such calculations are done for the entire bridge, but not down to the gusset plates, the official said. “This is not a bridge-inspection thing,” said one investigator, “It’s calculating loads and looking at designs.” There are about 465 other steel-deck truss bridges around the United States. The NTSB’s findings do not necessarily mean that even one other bridge is in danger of collapse.

Levine & Slavit has offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling motor vehicle accident and roadway defect cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. If you or someone close to you has been injured in an accident, contact one of our personal injury lawyers.

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