Company deflects blame for Minn. bridge collapse


An engineering firm blamed for not spotting the fatal flaw in the doomed Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis argues the state was at fault and shouldn't be able to recover damages from the company.

URS Corp.'s formal response to a state lawsuit contends Minnesota's transportation department and others should bear responsibility for the August 2007 collapse, which killed 13 people and injured 145.

URS had a long-standing contract with the state to evaluate the bridge's structural integrity and recommend ways to shore it up. The company claims that the state ignored its advice for repairs and the transportation department conducted other inspections unilaterally.

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"MnDOT had more information regarding the bridge, its design and its condition than any other party or person, including URS," according to the company's filing Thursday in Hennepin County District Court.

The response accuses the department of negligence for allowing a construction company to stage a half-million pounds of material and equipment on the bridge during a resurfacing project occurring at the time of the accident.

Department spokesman Kevin Gutknecht declined comment on the latest filing.

In a lawsuit filed two weeks ago, state lawyers alleged that URS breached its contracts and was negligent because it failed to discover the "substantially compromised and urgent hazardous condition of the bridge," including the fact that some of the steel gusset plates that joined the bridge's beams together were only a half-inch thick instead of a full inch.

Federal investigators ruled compromised plates were the critical factor in the collapse.

URS, a company headquartered in San Francisco with $10 billion in annual revenue, faces more than 100 lawsuits in the collapse. The state's lawsuit seeks to recover $37 million that a government compensation fund paid out to survivors and families of the deceased.

URS lawyers say Minnesota lawmakers volunteered settlement money to victims so the company shouldn't be on the hook.

If a jury ultimately requires repayment, URS lawyers wrote that the money should come from two other companies: Progressive Contractors Inc., the paving company, and Jacobs Engineering Group, the predecessor of the now-defunct company that designed the span in the 1960s.

Unlike the tit-for-tat lawsuits among other players in the collapse litigation, URS made no financial claims against the state. None of the bridge cases are expected to go to trial for more than a year.

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