Bus company files lawsuit over bridge 35W collapse


Two companies already accused by the state of negligence that contributed to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse face another lawsuit -- this time from the company that owns the school bus that was on the bridge at the time of the collapse.

The First Student Inc. bus, which carried dozens of Minneapolis school children returning from a field trip, is suing engineering consultant URS Corp. and paving company Progressive Contractors Inc. (PCI), according to a complaint filed Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court.

The bus was stranded on a section of the bridge when it fell. None of the passengers were killed and the children made it out of the bus, mostly with minor injuries.

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First Student is seeking to be reimbursed $30,337 for damages it sustained as a result of the bridge collapse.

According to the complaint, First Students says the URS Corporation, which is based in San Francisco, failed to recognize or ignored the urgency of the bridge's hazardous and compromised condition and "failed to fulfill its duties, responsibilities and promises...to ensure the bridge was safe and in good condition for use by the public."

First Student also says PCI, based in St. Michael, Minn., violated the standard of care and was also negligent in its performance of its work on the bridge. PCI was resurfacing the bridge when it broke apart during rush hour on Aug. 1, 2007.

In a final report last fall, federal investigators blamed the collapse on poorly designed connector plates that held together the span's steel beams. But they also cited the weight of construction materials on the bridge as a factor.

The First Student lawsuit is the most recent in a slew of legal challenges against the two companies. Lawyers for the state are trying to recover at least $37 million -- the amount a government settlement fund paid to the 145 people injured and relatives of the 13 killed.

Last week, the state sued URS, claiming it "violated the applicable engineering standard of care" and failed to warn the state "of the substantially compromised and urgent hazardous condition of the bridge."

URS was hired four years before the collapse to inspect the 1960s-era bridge and to suggest ways to shore it up.

But despite the legal challenges, the two companies have also won a combined $50 million in new highway and bridge contracts since the deadly disaster two years ago.

Since the disaster, URS has entered into $6.2 million in contracts with the transportation agency, the most recent coming four days before the state filed its lawsuit. The company, which also declined comment, is involved in at least three bridge projects.

PCI and its subsidiaries have taken on more than $42 million in new contract work in the last two years, with seven projects including bridge repair.

PCI attorney Kevin Hart said that the contracts demonstrate the state agency's trust in the company's work, despite a lawsuit the state filed against PCI in May that takes issue with the way the company staged heavy loads on vulnerable areas of the bridge.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)