A year and a half after the Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapsed, killing six and injuring at least eight, victims and their survivors have reached monetary settlements with all but one of the companies implicated in the disaster.
Among those signing on to the deal announced in MIami-Dade circuit court Monday are FIGG, the Tallahassee-based engineering firm that designed the 950-ton, 320-foot span, and Munilla Construction Management (MCM), the general contractor headquartered in Miami. In total, 23 subcontractors joined the deal, which requires them to pay into a fund set aside for those affected.
The lone holdout is Louis Berger, an engineering consulting firm hired to double-check FIGG’s design and calculations.
The terms of each settlement are confidential, but the funds agreed upon will be added on top of a $42 million deal hashed out by the victims and MCM’s insurers in April. While Monday’s announcement came in civil court, it will be formalized in federal bankruptcy court as part of MCM’s ongoing debt restructuring.
However, the nature of the bankruptcy proceeding means that all parties involved need Louis Berger on board before the money can be distributed.
“I can’t read their mind. I don’t know why they’d want to upset this apple cart,” said Stuart Grossman, an attorney for Richard Humble, who was a passenger in an SUV driven by 18-year-old Alexa Duran when the bridge fell onto them. Humble, 19, survived. Duran was crushed.
“We’re down to one defendant now,” Grossman said.
A lawyer for Louis Berger declined to comment on ongoing negotiations.
Louis Berger was cited as one of the principal companies at fault for the March 2018 bridge collapse in a scathing report released by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While FIGG’s design was structurally flawed, according to experts consulted by the Miami Herald, Louis Berger compounded the issue when the lone Berger engineer assigned to the job conducted an inadequate review of an intermediate stage of the project, OSHA found.
“If Louis Berger had checked the design at Stage 3, it could have discovered structural deficiencies in the design, and this incident could have been prevented,“ OSHA said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is doing a separate investigation into the causes of the collapse.
If the victims and Berger are unable to settle pre-trial, the findings of both investigations will likely factor into the court case.
“We plaintiffs feel there is a very strong case of negligence against Louis Berger,” said Alan Goldfarb, an attorney for the family of Duran, who was a student at FIU.
Lawyers for the victims announced three weeks ago that they had reached agreements with FIGG and six subcontractors. Since then, there’s been a cascade of additional parties settling.
“A tremendous amount of time and efforts on behalf of the victims went into effectuating all the settlements,” Goldfarb said.
However, if the victims and Louis Berger cannot come to an agreement, the case will likely drag on, locking up the money for the victims and their survivors for up to another year and a half, according to Goldfarb.
“Are they really thinking about the victims when they do this?” Goldfarb said of Louis Berger and its lawyers. “Do they know the grief and anguish they cause when they do this?”
The next hearing for the case is scheduled for Aug. 20. In the meantime, parties, including Louis Berger, have an opportunity to register objections with the presiding judge.