Minn. court: Design firm not free of bridge claim

Published 4:42 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS— A California design firm will remain a defendant in a lawsuit brought by the state of Minnesota over the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people, an appellate court ruled Tuesday.

Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. had sought immunity from the state’s claim, arguing in part that the state was beyond a time limit to bring such a claim. A three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected that argument and others, saying recent changes to state law makes such claims retroactive “indefinitely into the past.”

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The appellate judges did dismiss Jacobs from a claim filed by engineering firm URS Corp., ruling that Jacobs does not share liability with the San Francisco-based company. URS did consulting work on the bridge for the state of Minnesota.

Jacobs is the successor to the now-defunct company that designed the Interstate 35W bridge in the 1960s. It was a flaw in the design — gusset plates that were too thin — that was identified by the National Transportation Safety Board as a key cause of the failure.

URS said it was disappointed by Tuesday’s ruling and was considering whether to appeal further.

The rulings came one day after the announcement that URS had agreed to pay more than $52.4 million to settle lawsuits brought by survivors and the families of those killed in the catastrophe. That settlement — agreed to more than a week ago but kept quiet until Monday — resolves the last major piece of litigation brought by victims.

All told, the state and two of its contractors will have paid out $100 million to the families of those who died and the 145 people who were injured when the Mississippi River bridge broke apart during rush hour.

Monday’s settlement averted a trial that had been set for next spring that could have opened URS to punitive damages.

URS had argued its engineers didn’t know about a design flaw in the bridge that made it vulnerable. In a statement, the company said the settlement was necessary to avoid protracted litigation and said it admitted no fault.

Several survivors said they were relieved by the settlement and looking forward to getting on with their lives.