Two insurers want out of covering Figg Bridge Engineers in deadly Miami bridge collapse

Updated Aug 11, 2018

Two insurers have asked a federal judge to declare that they do not have to cover or defend Figg Bridge Engineers Inc. in lawsuits brought against the firm over the deadly collapse of a pedestrian bridge last March.

And meanwhile, a Florida state judge heard arguments July 31 over whether records related to the bridge design and construction must be released to the public. The Miami Herald is suing to gain access to those records.

Figg Bridge Engineers of Tallahassee helped design the bridge that fell at Florida International University near Miami, killing six people and injuring others, including bridge workers, last March.

Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut and The Phoenix Insurance Company are contending in U.S. District Court papers that there is a legal controversy between the parties regarding the scope of their coverage and whether they have a duty to defend and indemnify Figg in the lawsuits filed by survivors, legal publications report.

Well before the deadly bridge collapse on March 15, a series of cracks had begun emerging on both the south and north ends of the new pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in Miami, the National Transit Safety Board says in a preliminary report.

It says that cracks on the bridge’s north end were documented with photos a full 19 days before the failure that killed six people.

The significance of the cracking remains unclear. The investigation into the cause of the collapse of the 950-ton bridge could continue well into 2019.

Two days before the collapse of the pedestrian bridge in Miami, the lead engineer on the project left a voicemail with state officials saying cracking had been seen on the north end of the span that had been earlier moved into place during accelerated bridge construction.


Bridge engineer reported cracking, dismissed safety concerns

The engineer, W. Denney Pate with FIGG Bridge Engineers, had said that the cracking was not a safety concern, according to a recording and transcript of the call released by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) after the bridge failed.

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Pate also allayed any safety concerns during a meeting about the crack with the bridge design team and FDOT at the construction site just a few hours before the collapse, officials have said.

The main span of the 174-foot-long pedestrian bridge was under construction near the campus of Florida International University when it fell onto a state highway that hadn’t been shut down. Scheduled for completion in 2019, the 950-ton structure came down on cars stopping for a red light as tension rods were being tightened on that Thursday afternoon.

Here’s a transcript of the engineer’s original call, two days before the collapse. This was released by FDOT a day after the collapse:

“Hey Tom, this is Denney Pate with FIGG Bridge Engineers. Calling to, uh, share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that’s been observed on the north end of the span, the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend.

“Um, so, uh, we’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that. At any rate, I wanted to chat with you about that because I suspect at some point that’s gonna get to your desk. So, uh, at any rate, call me back when you can. Thank you. Bye.”

The message, left on a landline, was not heard until the day after the collapse by an FDOT employee who had been out of the office on assignment.

To listen to the audio file released by FDOT, click here.

While the designer is FIGG Bridge Engineers, the contractor who both built and installed the structure is MCM – Munilla Construction Management. Both firms are based in Florida.

FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc., has released a statement after the tragedy halted the $16.5 million project, saying the firm continues to work diligently with the construction team and authorities to help determine the cause of the collapse of the pedestrian bridge.

“We are heartbroken by the loss of life and injuries, and are carefully examining the steps that our team has taken in the interest of our overarching concern for public safety,” Figg says in its statement issued shortly after the collapse.

“The evaluation was based on the best available information at that time and indicated that there were no safety issues,” the statement says, in part.


Florida judge to rule soon on whether releasing records related to collapse

In other developments related to the bridge collapse, the Miami Herald has asked a Florida judge to order the release of records related to the collapse.

A Leon County circuit court judge heard arguments on July 31 over whether federal law bars the state from releasing certain records that might reveal more about the FIU bridge collapse.

Judge Kevin J. Carroll heard arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit over the records, which the Miami Herald filed in May after months of trying to obtain documents regarding the collapse, the newspaper reports.

The records at issue include meeting minutes, emails and other documents relating to the bridge’s design and construction.