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Wrongful Death and the Florida Bridge Collapse

The collapse of the pedestrian bridge connecting Florida International University to the city of Sweetwater on March 15, 2017, is a tragic reminder of the unanticipated hazards we face in everyday life. Major news outlets have reported that there are 6 victims of the collapse; they include 5 ordinary people going about their daily lives and 1 person working on-site.

There are also reports that just hours before the collapse, engineers for the bridge–FIGG Bridge Engineers–delivered a technical presentation regarding a crack in the bridge, concluding that there were no safety concerns, as the crack did not compromise structural integrity.

The Florida collapse has an ignominious link to the Commonwealth of Virginia. In June 2012, the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge spanning the Elizabeth River between Chesapeake and Portsmouth collapsed onto railroad tracks in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia–the bridge was being built by FIGG Bridge Engineers.

It is only a matter of time before lawsuits are filed on behalf of the Florida deceased. These claims are commonly known as “wrongful death” suits. The underlying concept of a wrongful death suit is to compensate certain family members for their loss of a loved one. The law of wrongful death varies on a state-by-state basis as far who can make a claim, the extent of their damages, and what type of evidence they may present in support of the claim. In Virginia, the law provides that “whenever the death of a person shall be caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of any person or corporation . . . then such person [or] corporation shall be liable to an action for damages.” You can read more about Virginia’s wrongful death statutes here.

Given that FIGG has already made headlines for a bridge collapse, and allegedly declared the FIU-Sweetwater bridge safe hours before it collapsed, it is hard to imagine that the court of public opinion is not primed to deliver its verdict. Only time will tell if a similar result is reached in the courtroom.

Wrongful death cases are an important part of our work at Burnett & Williams. Over the years, we’ve had some record cases, including a $15 million case that is considered the largest wrongful death jury verdict in Virginia history. If you or someone you love is in need of advice on a wrongful death case, call us anytime for an expert legal evaluation.