I35 W Bridge Collapse – Standard of Care Questioned


I35 W Bridge Collapse - Morning After: Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Pioneer Press (TwinCities.com) and the AP recently reported that attorneys representing 34 victims and surviving family members have filed documents requesting that a judge permit them to seek punative damages against URS, the engineering firm that evaluated the I 35 W bridge prior to the August 1, 2007 collapse.   This particular round of legal action against URS is based on claims that URS failed to determine the strength of the gusset plates which are considered by a number of investigators to be a significant contributing factor to the collapse.  Attorneys for the victims have stated that URS  did not  follow  proper and standard bridge review guidelines and as a result failed to warn state transportation officials that the bridge should have been closed.  It should be noted that URS was not involved in the design or construction of the modifications that were underway at the time of the collapse. 

Standard of Care:  These most recent claims speak to the standard of care that was executed in the pre-collapse review of the bridge structure and the duty of the reviewers to inform their client and warn the public of deficiencies.  The basis of these claims are strikingly similar to a presentation made by Joshua B. Kardon as a part of the  Plenary Session of the ASCE Technical Council on Forensic Engineering (TCFE)  5 th Congress on Forensic Engineering  titled “Engineering Ethics and Structural Calculations”.  In his presentation and paper, Mr. Kardon stated that “Engineering calculations are not just a formality of paperwork …but are part of the ethical obligation of the engineer to recognize that the lives, safety, health and welfare of the general public depend on the judgment, decisions and practices of the engineer.”   Mr. Kardon’s presentaion examined the correlation between the ethical responsibility of the engineer and the calculations used on a project through the use of several case study examples, one of which was the I 35 W  Bridge collapse.
More Information:
Copies of Mr. Kardon’s paper / presentation can be found in the Proceedings of the 5th Congress, Forensic Engineering 2009: Pathology of the Built Environment.  For more information or questions concerning the paper contact:  Joshua B. Kardon, ( jbkse@jbkse.com ), Joshua B. Kardon + Company Structural Engineers, 1930 Shattuck Avenue, Suite C, Berkeley, California 94704. PH: 510-548-1892.
Resources:  More informtion on the I 35 W Bridge Collapse can be found on the official Minnesota Department of Transportation I 35 W Bridge Collapse website.  For a comprehensive summary of the bridge collapse, refer to the I35W case study on the Failures Wiki

Photo Credit: Minn. DOT

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