PCI seeks to add state, design firm to bridge case

Bridge deck
A collapsed portion of the I-35W bridge deck.
National Transportation Safety Board

(AP) - A contractor that's being sued over the Interstate 35W bridge collapse said Wednesday that the state and an engineering firm should be defendants in the case as well.

Progressive Contractors Inc. is seeking to make the others cover any damages it might incur.

In its filings in Hennepin County District Court on Wednesday, PCI argues the state should be liable because it owned the bridge and breached its duty to inspect, maintain and repair the span.

PCI also targets Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., the successor to the company that designed the bridge. Federal inspectors ultimately ruled that the bridge collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007, because of a flaw in the original design.

Three people who were injured in the collapse and the family of a truck driver who was killed filed lawsuits in November against St. Michael-based PCI, which was doing resurfacing and other repair work on the bridge when it fell, killing 13 people and injuring 145.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined late last year that the bridge collapsed because some steel gusset plates that held the bridge's beams together were designed to be only half an inch thick, when they should have been an inch thick. That design work was done by the engineering firm of Sverdrup & Parcel, which Jacobs acquired in 1999.

PCI reiterated in its filings Wednesday that there's no way it could have known that the gusset plates were too weak when it was doing the repair project. But it alleged that the Minnesota Department of Transportation should have known, and that Jacobs is liable for Sverdrup's negligence.

Therefore, PCI said, if it's held that the plaintiffs are entitled to recover any damages from PCI, then PCI is entitled to recover money from the state and/or Jacobs. PCI is also seeking to recover from them the costs of defending itself against the lawsuits.

MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said the agency doesn't comment on litigation. A spokeswoman for Pasadena, Calif.-based Jacobs did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The lawsuits filed on behalf of the four victims by attorney Jim Schwebel in November also name URS Corp., a San Francisco consulting firm hired by MnDOT to evaluate the bridge before it failed, which so far has not filed actions similar to PCI's.

A coalition of more than 120 other victims led by attorney Chris Messerly has not sued so far. They're seeking compensation from a $38 million fund set up by the Legislature.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)