Category: Industrial Accident

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionCranesEngineeringExpert WitnessForensic Accident Investigation

Let the Finger Pointing Begin: Who is Responsible for the FIU Bridge Collapse?

[DISCLAIMER: In this post, we are going to name probable defendants based on available information. We are not determining liability or placing blame.]

One attribute of legal education is viewing an event and knowing, without a doubt, litigation will ensue; it is a blessing and a curse! I had this experience yesterday as I watched the horrific news unfold about the Florida International University bridge collapse. Issue spotting and parties were being identified within minutes after I received notice a bridge had failed in Florida.

For many catastrophic injury and wrongful death attorneys, this is a dream case. This sounds bad, I know, but hear me out. The result of this disaster is appalling and fault is abundant. None of that fault can be attributed to the victims. They were going about their day – sitting in their cars, stopped at a red light, probably admiring the new bridge – when the bridge collapsed on top of their vehicles. The victims did nothing wrong. They have no-fault (contributory, comparative, or otherwise) and, for certain, someone else is to blame.

The list of defendants will be ample. I’ve listed some of the probable defendants below. Don’t worry, these companies and institutions will be doing their own finger pointing. Whether we see it reported in the news or not, the blame game has already begun. To limit their liability, these defendants will point to others as responsible for this catastrophe, and the others will point back and point to others.

What we know:

In the City of Sweetwater, Florida, a pedestrian overpass at Florida International University (FIU) collapsed onto a notoriously busy road below. The Miami-Dade fire department confirmed six people are dead as a result. According to this article from Yahoo News, “at least eight vehicles were trapped in the wreckage of the 950-ton bridge.” Evidently, the bridge was constructed on the side of the road and was installed last Saturday.

“To keep the inevitable disruption of traffic associated with bridge construction to a minimum, the 174-foot portion of the bridge was built adjacent to Southwest 8th Street using a method called Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC). It was driven into its perpendicular position across the road by a rig in only six hours on Saturday, according to a statement released by the university.

The $14.2 million bridge was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, the most dangerous measure by the National Hurricane Center, and built to last 100 years, the university said.”

We can safely say the bridge did not live up to the purpose of its design. It didn’t have an opportunity to be hurricane tested because it was unable to remain standing for a whole week.

Possible Defendants: Anyone Involved in the Design, Construction, Inspection, and Erection of the Bridge

Where do I start? There are so many possibilities. Here is the list I’ve developed so far:

  • Munilla Construction Management (built and installed the bridge)
  • FIGG Engineering Group (bridge design, engineering and construction services)
  • Barnhart Crane and Rigging (moved the bridge into place)
  • BDI (structural testing and monitoring services)
  • City of Sweetwater
  • Miami-Dade County
  • Florida International University
  • Florida Department of Transportation
  • Materials Manufacturers (concrete, steel, etc.)

There will probably be other subcontractors and unknown parties who will be added to this list. The city, county, and state probably conducted inspections at different times during the design and construction of the bridge, so failures may be attributed to the municipalities as well.

Where Experts Come In:

What we have in this case is a bridge collapse. Failure analysis is the technical phrase used to determine why the bridge collapsed. The NTSB is sending their own investigative team to determine the cause for the failure. In litigation, both Plaintiff and Defense will retain a variety of experts to conduct their own analysis. Experts for all parties will have many questions to address. Here are some of the issues that come to mind immediately…

Were there defects in the construction of the bridge? If construction defects are identified, they may indicate a breach in the standard of care used by Munilla Construction Management during building of the overpass.

What about the design of the walkway? Did FIGG Engineering follow appropriate standards in designing the structure? Design and structural engineers will have to evaluate errors in the specifications which may have left the platform in a weakened and unsafe state.  This will also play a role for BDI who monitored the installation and later posted this picture, on Twitter:

 

bridge-collapse.PNG

 

Was the platform moved and installed according to crane and rigging policies and standards? Had there been a failure to secure the pieces of the bridge when moving it into place? Had the installation process added stress to components unnecessarily? This will all have to be analyzed to see if Barnhart Crane and Rigging had breached their standards of care during installation. Again, this will play a role for BDI, as they believed the move was a “job well done.”

By images and videos available in the news, we can see significant concrete slabs on top of the damaged vehicles. It will have to be analyzed and determined if the materials themselves had failed. Was the concrete, steel, or other material defective? Was it built to specifications? If not, what is the acceptable industry-standard deviation? If so, a product liability lawsuit against the materials manufacturers may also be appropriate.

All of these items will come back to the municipalities involved. Why did they retain the above-named companies? Was there a history of safety concerns with any of the firms? Were they overlooked? Did the municipalities fail to properly inspect the construction efforts? The Miami Herald covers some items about Munilla Construction Management and FIGG Engineering (and their respective work histories) in this article.

Traffic and pedestrian safety standards also come to mind as issues that may be addressed in upcoming litigation. Was there an alternative traffic route that could have been used until construction was completed? Were traffic safety procedures followed for the installation of an overpass?

There are many questions to be answered. For the victims, those answers will not ease the pain of losing loved ones. But the one guarantee we have is that one or more parties are responsible and those parties will be busy pointing the finger at each other and at others.

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionAccident SafetyIndustrial Accident

Car Accident Experts: Quentin Tarantino Questions How the Uma Thurman Accident Happened

Over the weekend we heard from another victim of Harvey Weinstein. This time, actress Uma Thurman discussed her assault at the hands of Hollywood’s most well-known predator in a piece for the New York Times. In this opinion piece by Maureen Dowd, Uma Thurman recounts a physical attack by Weinstein that occurred when she was a young actress (an attack Weinstein denies).

Also discussed in the article was a car accident on the set of Kill Bill. An accident Thurman believes resulted in long-term neck and knee damage. The interesting aspect of this car accident is that it was recorded by a camera mounted on the Karmann Ghia driven by Thurman (video available in the Times article).

In an article published last night by Deadline, director Quentin Tarantino explains that he provided the 15-year-old footage to Ms. Thurman in the hopes that “if I get this footage to her and she puts it out there in the world, that a crash expert can look at it and determine exactly what happened on that road.”

In the article on Deadline, Tarantino provides us with some more information about contributing factors in the crash. Here are some of the items that an accident reconstructionist would have to take into account when viewing the video.

  • Uma Thurman was driving the automobile somewhere between 35 and 45 MPH
  • There was an S-curve in the road that appears to be a fork in the road
  • The road had more sand and less dirt than Tarantino anticipated
  • Tarantino drove the road in one direction to test safety
  • Thurman drove the road in the opposite direction with no prior test in that direction
  • There was a mounted camera on the back of the automobile making the back-end heavier
  • Tarantino says the automobile was hydroplaning on the sand
  • The car goes into a spin in the sand and slides into the tree

Unfortunately for Thurman, she believes that the automobile may not be around for inspection by an auto accident expert. In the Deadline article, Tarantino explains his conversation with Thurman after the Times article was released last weekend and recounts their conversation as follows: “After the car incident. She feels it’s very possible the car was destroyed, at Harvey Weinstein’s insistence, and at Bennett Walsh and Lawrence Bender’s execution.” Putting aside the conspiratorial ideas and potential destruction of evidence, the remaining information to be analyzed is the video and witness statements.

What else can we determine from the video?

What else might help to determine the cause of the accident? In the video we actually get to see the impact to Ms. Thurman’s body at the time the automobile hits the tree. The movement and impact on the body could help explain the cause of the accident.

Not only will a “crash expert” be needed to analyze the video and witness statements as suggested by Tarantino, but it is likely a biomechanics expert would be required to help determine the injury to Thurman’s body. The combination of expertise from an accident reconstructionist and biomechanics expert will provide Ms. Thurman with a full accounting of the cause of this crash and resulting injury.

By her own account in the Times article, Ms. Thurman describes, “The steering wheel was at my belly and my legs were jammed under me… I came back from the hospital in a neck brace with my knees damaged and a large massive egg on my head and a concussion.” In the video you can see the relatively tall Thurman’s legs shoved under the steering wheel of the Karmann Ghia. There is also a protrusion (which appears to be her Kill Bill sword) at about shoulder level (while sitting). This protrusion impacts with the right side of her head when the front left side of the car collides with the tree. One can only imagine this item (which probably should have been secured or removed) was responsible for the concussion.

There are a host of other issues present in an accident like this. Certainly matters of workplace safety come to mind. However, Mr. Tarantino only seemed interested in determining the cause of the accident. In which case, we recommend the involvement of an automobile accident reconstructionist and a biomechanics expert as described above.

I invite any of our Experts.com members to review the video and write an article analyzing the accident!

Accident Investigation & ReconstructionElectro-Mechanical EngineeringEngineeringIndustrial AccidentOSHA

Steel Mill Electric Arc Furnace Accidents

Steel mill electric arc furnace manufacturers and employers must be required to properly train workers to ensure a safe working environment. The following Case Scenario is an example of how improper training can lead to egregious harm and even death.

Steel Mill Electric Arc Furnace

Case Scenario: Death On A Steel Mill Electric Arc Furnace

 

By: David Kobernuss, BSEE, MSEA, PE
Tel: (315) 336-2808

Expert’s Job Assignment

To assist with the case by the plaintiff widow against a third party industrial company and various contractors.

Case Synopsis

Maintenance work was being done on a three phase AC electric arcfurnace that was about 30 feet in diameter. It was shut down for some extensive repairs. There were many different crafts and contractors working on different aspects of the repairs and many of them were out of sight of others.

The deceased was welding on the support section of one of the three electrode arms that hold and carry current to the main electrodes that do the melting in the furnace. The clamping section had been removed so that he could get access to the damaged area that was to be repaired, and it was being held up about 10 feet above him by an overhead crane, by means of a chain assembly on the main crane hook. The removed clamping section was an assembly of aluminum and copper that weighed over two tons.

By means of a spurious electrical signal the control circuit for the furnace sent a signal to raise all three electrode arms. The stored energy in the hydraulic accumulators did just that: all three electrode support posts rose up to their full height. In doing so one of the other arms hit the suspended clamping section and dislodged it from the overhead crane. It fell and killed the welder below.

Expert analysis

  1. The control system for the furnace required that there be a large hydraulic accumulator for each phase electrode in order to be the source of a large volume of oil so as to move the electrodes faster that the hydraulic pumps could supply the oil. These were piped to the electrode cylinders through 4 inch diameter pipes.
  2. . . . Read Entire Article

David Kobernuss, BSEE, MSEA, is an Electro-Mechanical Engineering Expert who specializes in Industrial Accidents, Machine Performance, Electrical Accidents, Shock and Electrocutions.