Minn. court hands split ruling to design firm seeking immunity in bridge collapse litigation

By Amy Forliti, AP
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Minn. court: Design firm not free of bridge claims

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Court of Appeals has issued split decisions on whether a California design firm will remain a defendant in lawsuits over a 2007 bridge collapse that killed 13 people.

One of Tuesday’s decisions by a three-judge panel dismisses design firm Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. from claims filed by engineering firm URS Corp. The judges say too much time has passed for Jacobs to have a shared liability with URS.

But the same panel ruled that Jacobs would remain a defendant in claims filed by the state. Here, the judges say state law covering these types of issues would apply retroactively.

Jacobs is the successor to the now-defunct company that designed the Interstate 35W bridge in the 1960s. Officials say a design flaw contributed to the collapse.

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

The opinions come a day after San Francisco-based URS agreed to pay $52.4 million to settle lawsuits filed by bridge victims. 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.

The settlement averts 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.

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