Contractor involved in deadly Miami bridge collapse alleges design firm botched review

MCM settled with victims for $103M

TRD MIAMI /
Sep.September 24, 2020 06:00 PM
MCM President Jorge Munilla and a photo of the bridge collapse (Linkedin, Getty)

MCM President Jorge Munilla and a photo of the bridge collapse (Linkedin, Getty)

The contractor behind the Florida International University bridge that collapsed in March 2018, killing six and injuring 10, filed a lawsuit seeking $15 million from the company responsible for reviewing the bridge’s design before its construction.

The plaintiff and builder of the $14.2 million bridge at Southwest 109th Avenue and Southwest Eighth Street, Miami-based Magnum Construction Management — also known as MCM and formerly known as Munilla Construction Management — wants to use the money toward its $9.5 million settlement with the university and to make up for business lost since the collapse, according to documents filed this month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

MCM is suing Morristown, New Jersey-based The Louis Berger Group, a professional services provider that received some of the blame in post-incident government investigative reports on the collapse.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s report said that because Berger’s independent peer review looked at the bridge as a whole and not in increments, it missed a reinforcing flaw that led to the bridge’s failure. Berger representatives told the NTSB it was only paid to look at the bridge in increments.

The report also said Berger wasn’t qualified by the Florida Department of Transportation to conduct the peer review.

Also named as defendants in MCM’s lawsuit are WSP Global, a Canadian company that closed on a purchase of Berger Group in December 2018 for $400 million cash, and Berger subsidiary Ammann & Whitney. In its suit, MCM says WSP is still liable for its subsidiary, even if the acquisition came after the collapse.

Not named in this lawsuit, but also blamed for the collapse, is the bridge designer on the project, Tallahassee-based Figg Bridge Engineers.

MCM’s attorney for the case did not respond to requests for comment. A WSP Global spokesperson declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. Representatives from Figg did not respond to requests for comment.

MCM said in its suit that its construction work was not blamed for the collapse and that it would have never built the bridge with the flawed design, had Berger caught the error. “Any responsibility that MCM may have held for the Bridge collapse arose from the acts and omissions of FIGG and Louis Berger and not from any active negligence by MCM,” according to the lawsuit.

The NTSB and a separate report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration did blame MCM, the Florida Department of Transportation and the university for leaving the road under the bridge open during emergency construction work, and for failing to implement safety measures when cracks formed in the bridge the morning of its collapse.

The separate OSHA report also put blame on Berger for its review process, saying that FDOT required an incremental review of the bridge.

MCM accuses Berger of misrepresenting its qualifications for the peer review and negligence for not complying with federal requirements for peer reviews by not reviewing the intermediate phases of the bridge design, according to the suit. It also alleges Berger failed to adequately review traffic control plans.

The bridge collapsed five days after crews lowered the 174-foot, 950-ton section of bridge into position. MCM has a long history in South Florida — it was founded three decades ago. MCM filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2019.

MCM says in its lawsuit that it lost money on four different contracts or contract amendments due to the collapse and damage to the company’s reputation. It doesn’t detail the business deals. However, the Miami Herald reported in 2019 that MCM withdrew a bid on a county library project in Hialeah Gardens and abandoned an attempt to win an $800 million contract for a bridge over I-395.

A lawsuit from families of those who died and people injured by the collapse resulted in a $103 million settlement from MCM, shared among the victims. Miami-Dade Circuit Court records show other lawsuits against Figg, Berger and other companies related to the bridge collapse remain open.

Meanwhile, Figg has contested the NTSB reports that blame the firm, instead insisting that poor construction caused the collapse, not a design error. Figg was temporarily suspended by the Federal Highway Administration from working on federally funded jobs. The firm faces a 10-year ban as well. CEO Linda Figg has said the suspension could result in the end of the company founded by her father, according to Equipment World.

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to build a new bridge over Eighth Street, which should take about two years.


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