Senate committee passes $25 million bridge compensation fund

35w victims
Jennifer Holmes, whose husband Pat died in the I-35W bridge collapse, listens to testimony during Monday's committee meeting. Behind her is Chris Messerly, a lawyer who's representing a number of bridge collapse victims.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The Senate plan has one major difference from one that cleared the House last month: The Senate version has caps on the awards victims can claim. That also makes the Senate plan cheaper -- $25 million compared to the House's $40 million.

Jennifer Holmes told the Senate committee that caps are a bad idea because some victims' medical bills and lost wages will easily surpass the 400-thousand dollar cap. Her husband Pat died in the bridge collapse.

"Everybody has their own unique story," she said. "I've met many people who are either survivors or who lost someone, but everybody - they're dealing with a lot of stuff. I just think it's really sad that people are continuing to go through such struggles."

Sen. Ron Latz
State Sen. Ron Latz testifies Monday morning for his version of a bill to create an I-35W bridge victims compensation fund.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The Senate sponsor, Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said caps are the fairest for taxpayers, in part, because there are already caps in place for cases like these.

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"If someone were hit by a state trooper on a high-speed chase and suffered injury that broke their back, made them paraplegic, brain injury, needed long-term care, it'd be millions of dollars' worth of losses," Latz told reporters after the committee meeting. "If they were to bring a claim against the state, they'd be subject to the $400,000 cap."

Attorney Chris Messerly, who is representing a number of survivors of the bridge collapse, said a hard cap on settlements could lead him to advise victims to reject settlement offers and challenge the state's liability limits in court.

A conference committee will likely come up with a compromise between the two versions, once the Senate bill passes.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)