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At Least 6 Victims Dead Following Collapse of Pedestrian Bridge in Miami, Important Questions Raised

By: Allan M. Siegel

Officials from Miami-Dade County have reported that at least six victims were killed when a 950 ton bridge near Florida International University collapsed over a busy road Thursday afternoon. As federal officials begin their investigation of the catastrophic Miami bridge collapse, authorities continuing to shift through the debris to remove victims have stated that the death toll may rise. At least 10 victims were also transported to a local hospital to be treated for injuries.

The collapsed bridge was a pedestrian-only walkway connecting the city of Sweetwater, FL to the campus of Florida International University, and one of the victims killed was an FIU student. According to public officials, the foot bridge was still under construction and being installed when it came crashing down. Senator Marco Rubio said workers were also tightening suspension cables at the time.

Given the severity of the incident, federal officials from the FBI, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have taken the lead in the investigation. Their efforts will focus not only on clearing the wreckage and preserving evidence, but also determining what led to the collapse, whether it could and should have been prevented, and if negligence played a role.

Officials Discuss Potential Causes

Although the bridge was scheduled to open early next year, it was designed in a way to allow for ongoing construction that would not impede traffic, and also allow pedestrians and cars could to pass under the structure once it was installed and being finalized. Because the project used accelerated bridge construction, technology that has been championed by FIU and is being increasingly used across the country, the entirety of the walkway was built at a nearby location and transported and installed across the section of road leading to FIU within a matter of hours.

Unveiled just five days prior to the collapse, the pedestrian bridge was the largest to date to have been constructed in this manner, and the first in the world to have been made using self-cleaning concrete, which lasts longer than traditional building materials and reduces pollution by absorbing pollutants from the air. The bridge was also designed to withstand hurricane-force winds.

In light of the advanced construction methods, new building materials, and speed and scope of the project, many officials are asking federal agencies whether or not they may have played a role in the collapse, as well as what standards and regulations apply to these new technologies so that speed does not compromise safety. In a press conference held Thursday afternoon, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez also discussed the possibility that the bridge may have been undergoing a “stress test” at the time of the collapse, as well as whether suspension cables were being tightened. Two workers were on the bridge when it crashed down.

BDI of Louisville, the engineering company overseeing the project, as well as the Miami-based contractor Munilla Construction Management (MCM), have stated they intend to cooperate with officials during the investigation. Since the collapse, however, it was soon discovered that MCM is a major contributor to political parties in South Florida and that it was recently sued for damages suffered by a security guard who was injured when a ”makeshift bridge” collapsed near the Miami airport. Officials have called for further reviews into the construction firm and their role in the pedestrian bridge project.

Significant Questions for Victims and the Public

Tragedies as devastating and significant as the Miami bridge collapse raise significant questions for victims and families who must now cope with the untimely loss of their loved ones. Those questions revolve around whether those deaths could have been prevented, as well as who should be held responsible for their damages. The incident is also important to the public, as American citizens have the right to know whether certain structures, construction projects, failures in regulatory oversight, or other factors could lead to similar tragedies that have the potential to harm them or their loved ones.

Answers to these questions are not easy to come by, which is why investigations conducted by authorities and regulators are so critical. Personal injury lawyers who represent victims and families of these large-scale accidents also play an important role in unearthing and exposing information important to their clients’ fight for justice, and public safety.

Our attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. express our sincere condolences to everyone affected by this tragic event. Having represented victims and families of major transportation accidents throughout the years, we know there is much work to be done if important questions are to be answered. We hope all parties involved can help further our understanding of what led to the collapse and how similar incidents can be prevented, and are always available to help victims and families of tragedy when they seek answers of their own.