Six people were killed in Miami, Florida last Thursday, March 15th, when a pedestrian bridge under construction fell on a major highway crushing cars traveling underneath. The huge concrete bridge was next to Florida International University in the Sweetwater area. I have driven on this highway many times. The bridge structure weighed 950 tons and was being built over a major multi lane highway. At the time of the collapse workers were adjusting the tension on the bridge cables. Traffic was allowed to continue under the bridge during the cable adjustments.
Contractors at FIGG Bridge Engineers identified a crack in the concrete before the collapse but concluded that there were no safety concerns and that the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge. The lead project engineer left a voice mail for the Florida Department of Transportation about the concrete crack but the DOT did not listen to the voice mail until after the bridge collapsed.
It is clear that some of the contractors or construction workers made serious mistakes that resulted in this disaster. Bridge construction is a well known science and this is not something that can happen as just an unavoidable accident.
The Miami Police Department Homicide investigators are trying to determine whether a crime was committed or whether there was just negligence or incompetence on the part of the bridge builders. In order for criminal charges to be brought the Miami homicide investigators would have to find that those responsible for the bridge fall acted with reckless disregard for human safety. For example, if a concrete contractor intentionally substituted poor quality concrete in order to save money that might be considered reckless or conscious disregard for public safety.
Any other type of conduct showing that the contractors put profits ahead of safety could be a basis for criminal charges. In my opinion, the evidence of recklessness or conscious disregard of safety would have to be pretty clear before charges are brought because the prosecutors are required to prove this culpable state of mind beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the civil lawsuits for money damages that will undoubtedly be brought by the families of those who died, the lawyers need only to prove negligence or carelessness. Further, the civil lawyers only need to prove the negligence case by the greater weight of the evidence which is more likely than not or 51% probability.
If there is evidence of reckless conduct or putting profits award of safety the lawyers for the families of those who died may be able to recover punitive damages to punish and to deter others from such conduct. In the civil money damage cases, the recklessness need not be proven beyond the reasonable doubt standard required to convict a person of a crime and send them to jail.
I hope that the investigations into this disaster will provide information that will help prevent future construction injures and loss of life.
Admitted to both the California State Bar and the Florida State Bar, Joseph Saunders has also practiced in the United States District Court and the United States Court of Appeals. His philosophy is to provide aggressive, quality representation and seek fair compensation for individuals and their families who have suffered injury or death at the hands of insurance companies, large corporations, medical providers or governmental entities.