Another survivor of last week’s bridge collapse at Florida International University filed a lawsuit Tuesday morning, accusing companies involved with its design and construction of numerous failures resulting in the young woman’s brush with death.
Twenty-two-year-old FIU student Emily Joy Panagos rolled to a stop in her red Honda Civic under the campus’ newly constructed pedestrian walkway spanning Southwest Eighth Street last Thursday around 1:30 p.m. She was heading east in the left-turn lane, waiting for a red light to change, when the 950-ton concrete slab gave way suddenly, crushing the back end of the car in less than a second. She survived, but was taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for level 1 trauma injuries.
“Our client suffered serious injury as a direct result of her car being crushed, coming quite literally, within inches of her life,” said her attorney, Matt Morgan, in a statement. It is the second civil suit filed stemming from the FIU bridge failure to date. Both were filed by Morgan and his Orlando-based personal injury law office, Morgan & Morgan.
Marquise Hepburn, the survivor who filed the first lawsuit Monday, said he was riding his bicycle under the bridge when a car swerved out of the way of falling concrete and hit him. Hepburn has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Both suits name the same defendants, Morgan told the Miami Herald. Among them are Munilla Construction Management, the contractor on the project, and FIGG Bridge Engineers, the company responsible for the design. The first complaint alleged that the firms failed their responsibility to maintain safety standards and exhibit due diligence when they “drastically deviated from the safe, known and established methods of bridge design, construction, and inspection.” The complaint filed Monday alleges that at the time of collapse, the bridge lacked any kind of redundancy in case of a failure.
The cause of the collapse is still unknown, but several red flags have been identified in the five days since the accident. A FIGG engineer called the Florida Department of Transportation two days before the collapse to report that cracks had appeared in the concrete. Just hours before the collapse, project engineers had determined the cracks were not a safety concern in a meeting with officials from FIU and the Florida Department of Transportation. Cracks are common in concrete bridges and experts say they don’t always indicate a safety concern.
Workers had been performing stress tests on the structure prior to the collapse, FIU President Mark Rosenberg said. Also, a team had been adjusting the cables that run through the concrete span before it fell on Panagos and more than a dozen others.
A total of 10 victims including Panagos were hospitalized at Kendall Regional Medical Center with trauma injuries caused by the collapse. As of Tuesday afternoon, only one was still hospitalized, remaining in critical condition, according to the hospital. Eight were discharged, and one died shortly after arriving to the ICU.
Six people died in the collapse. Among them were Alberto Arias, 53, and Osvaldo González, 57, a couple crushed while driving their white Chevy truck. Yesenia Collazo, a Doral-based attorney, said Tuesday that her firm will file a wrongful death suit on the couple’s behalf after their funeral services are complete on Wednesday.
Morgan told the Miami Herald he expects to see many more lawsuits filed against the companies involved in the project in the days ahead.