South Florida Business Journal: Troubling questions swirl around FIU bridge collapse

How could this happen?

That’s the question on the minds of many in the aftermath of the collapse of a pedestrian bridge under construction at Florida International University, an incident that left six dead.

The 950-ton bridge across Southwest Eighth Street collapsed March 15, crushing numerous cars underneath it. FIU hired Munilla Construction Management (MCM) to build the bridge, which was designed by Figg Bridge Group.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation. Late Thursday night, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted: “ The cables that suspend the Miami bridge had loosened and the engineering firm ordered that they be tightened. They were being tightened when it collapsed today.”

If that statement is correct and there was concern about the stability of the bridge, it raises the question of why the parties responsible for building the bridge didn’t block traffic, said Joshua Estrin, an occupational safety and health expert who conducts forensic analysis of construction accidents for Stephen A. Estrin & Co., which has offices in Hollywood. The general contractor is ultimately responsible for the safety of both the construction workers and the general public around the site, he added.

“There is absolutely no excuse for something like this to happen,” Estrin said. “Even if there was a problem with the materials they were using, in this age of technology, everything can be designed in 3-D and through a computer. They are running tests on the structural integrity of the concrete to see how much concrete they can lay. As we get more facts, we will learn that something in the checks of balances … had broken down.”

David Haber, a partner with Miami law firm Haber Slade who has represented plaintiffs in construction defects lawsuits, said it was terrible judgment to allow cars to drive underneath the bridge while there was an issue with the tightness of the cables.

“You do not need to be an architect, an engineer or a contractor to say, ‘Let’s test it when there is no one around,’” Haber said...

In many construction accident lawsuits, there are disputes about liability among the owner, general contractor, architect and engineer about who should be held liable, Haber said. In this case, the victims’ families may sue FIU and all the parties involved in the construction of the bridge, and then parties will file cross-claims to determine who was at fault, he said.

The questions are whether the design of the bridge was flawed, the loads the bridge could handle were calculated incorrectly, or the task of construction was not carried out correctly, Haber said.

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