A Minneapolis personal injury law firm has filed a petition in federal court seeking access to the Interstate 35 W bridge, which collapsed Aug. 1, killing nine people and injuring at least 100 others. According to an article in the Winona Daily News , the law firm wants access to the collapse site right away so their own investigators can begin looking into what could very well lead to wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits. The firm, Schwebel, Goetz and Sieben, has reportedly been retained by three people severely injured in the bridge collapse and the families of two others who died in the disaster. Authorities are still pulling out debris, wreckage and bodies from the Mississippi.
It is perfectly understandable that the firm wants to get there before most of the evidence is gone. But of course officials have objections to it. The U.S. Attorney’s office is calling the petition “premature.” Officials say efforts to recover bodies of other victims will be hampered by accommodating the law firm’s request. According to the article, the firm’s attorneys said in their petition that they had hired two experts specifically to help pursue wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits on behalf of the clients and that they had the special training and experience that would help jurors determine negligence and causation issues.
The petition also implores the judge to grant immediate access because once the wreckage is taken apart it would be impossible for the law firm and its independent investigators to conduct a legitimate investigation. Victims must file claims and lawsuits within with very specific time limits to preserve their rights. Failure to timely and appropriately file results in a termination of rights. The state’s liability is reportedly only $1 million. But victims could absolutely target private contractors and their insurers as well.
The federal court should grant these attorneys access to the collapsed bridge. In every personal injury case, physical evidence reigns supreme. In this case, the condition of the bridge will speak volumes. Those investigative reports will be the star witness if there should be a jury trial. That bridge with its collapse took down the lives, hopes and aspirations of hundreds of people. And according to several news reports, the bridge has been structurally deficient for a decade and the officials in the Minnesota Department of Transportation reportedly have done nothing but bicker about how to fix it. As a result, the bridge never got the repairs it so badly needed. Those responsible need to be held accountable.
A recent report revealed that 24 bridges in Orange County and many more in the state of California are in as bad a shape or much worse that the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota.