Minn. settles last I-35W bridge case

Published 9:57 am Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s five-year legal battle over the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge has ended with an $8.9 million settlement involving a California design firm, which paid its final installment on Tuesday.

Chris Joyce, a Minnesota Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said the settlement is a final chapter in the 35W legal saga.

“It ends all litigation dealing with the collapse of the 35W bridge,” Joyce said.

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The deal was struck in October, but wasn’t publicized. The Associated Press learned of the settlement through a disclosure of pending cases the state makes ahead of bond sales.

Thirteen people died and 145 more were injured when the highway bridge buckled and fell into the Mississippi River during an August rush-hour.

A Minneapolis attorney who represented Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. referred comments to a company executive. The executive didn’t immediately return a phone call or email. As part of the settlement, Jacobs admitted no wrongdoing but said it was done to head off continued legal expense and protracted litigation.

Jacobs had earlier pushed to have the case dismissed. It argued that state law put a 10-year limit on liability and noted that the state had a 1962 contract with the bridge’s designer, a now-defunct company that Jacobs acquired in 1999. But state courts let the lawsuit proceed; the U.S. Supreme Court decided in May turned down the company’s final appeal.

Federal investigators determined that an original design flaw was a key factor that doomed the bridge.

After the collapse, the state also sued URS Corp., an engineering company that was evaluating the bridge before it fell. The sides settled that case for $5 million settlement to avert a trial, which could have opened URS to punitive damages. Neither side admitted any liability or fault.

Separate from its state payment, URS settled lawsuits brought by survivors and the families of those killed for more than $52 million. The state also set up a special $36.6 million compensation fund for those impacted.