Construction Companies Behind Collapsed Miami Bridge Faced Allegations of Unsafe Practices

March 17, 2018 Updated: March 17, 2018

Two of the companies involved in the construction of the recently collapsed FIU footbridge in Florida faced allegations of unsafe practices, the Miami New Times reported.

The New Times wrote that Munilla Construction Management, a South Florida firm, was one of the firms involved in building FIU’s bridge, while another was Figg Bridge Group, from Tallahassee.

Munilla faced a civil suit brought forward by a TSA employee who reportedly suffered an injury at a section of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that was under construction, the news service reported.

Lawyer Tesha Allison, representing TSA worker Jose Perez, told the New Times that a “makeshift bridge” through an area of the airport where employees had to walk through to reach restrooms “broke under [his] weight,” causing “multiple broken bones and damage to his spine.”

Allison said the company had done “shoddy work.”

A spokesperson for Munilla told the New Times that the “makeshift bridge” indicated in the lawsuit was not a “bridge” but a plywood pathway and called the incident “simply a trip and fall accident.”

This is the statement in its entirety, according to the New Times.

In regard to the incident at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport that is being reported on, we want to make it clear that there is no bridge, or temporary bridge, at this project. This was simply a trip and fall accident that occurred on the ground floor involving a piece of plywood that was covering a sidewalk under construction. To report that this is in any way similar to the tragic accident involving the FIU pedestrian bridge is simply wrong and irresponsible.

Munilla also provided a photograph of the site, which shows a number of plywood boards covering up what appears to be a portion of the ground that had been dug up.

Perez’s lawyer said the structure that was meant to protect airport employees from a construction-related hazard was “poorly done.”

“They built this makeshift bridge in the area where all the employees work, and it was poorly done. He fell and hurt himself really badly,” Allison told the New Times.

A span of bridge put together by Figg in Virginia collapsed in 2012, before being put into service.

Company workers were fitting a 90-ton concrete section of the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge when it fell 40 feet onto railroad tracks, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

Four workers suffered injuries in the incident.

“They were fortunate that the injuries were not more serious,” said Jay Withrow, director of the legal support division for the Department of Labor and Industry, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Following an investigation by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, Figg was fined $28,000 and cited for a number of infractions.

The company had reportedly made unauthorized modifications to a girder used in construction and did not conduct regular inspections of the girder. It is also reported that Figg was cited for not having certain safety procedures in place, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

A company representative responded to queries by the Virginian-Pilot with a written statement, saying that the violation had no bearing on the safety of the bridge.

“The incident that occurred during construction was a construction equipment property damage issue that had nothing to do with the final bridge,” said W. Jay Rohleder, the company’s manager on the project.

The New Times also published a further statement provided by Figg, in which the company calls the collapse of the Miami bridge an “unprecedented event,” adding that “no other bridge designed by FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. Has ever experienced such a collapse.”

“The Jordan Bridge opened in October 2012 and restored a vital connection to Portsmouth and Chesapeake. The incident that occurred during construction was a construction equipment property damage issue that had nothing to do with the final bridge. It resulted in the need for a new temporary erection truss to build the last four spans of the bridge. A citation issued by the state was not related in any way to the structural integrity of the completed project, and is not the reason the erection truss required replacing. The collapse of the pedestrian bridge in Miami is an unprecedented event – no other bridge designed by FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc. has ever experienced such a collapse.”

Munilla released a statement via Twitter, saying that an “in-depth investigation” into the pedestrian bridge collapse was being launched and that the company would be “fully cooperating.”

“We are just heartbroken,” the statement concludes.

The company also Tweeted condolences to “everyone affected by this terrible tragedy.”

Figg expressed sympathies to the victims of the tragedy via the Fort Myers News-Press.

“Our deepest sympathies are with all those affected by this accident. We will fully cooperate with every appropriate authority in reviewing what happened and why. In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before. Our entire team mourns the loss of life and injuries associated with this devastating tragedy, and our prayers go out to all involved.”

Further, late on Friday, March 16, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) released a transcript of a voice-mail message the agency said was left by Denney Pate, senior vice president and principal bridge engineer for Figg.

In it, Pate said his team had observed “some cracking” at one end of the bridge and that repairs were warranted, “but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there, so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective.”

He added “Obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ‘ya know, done to repair that.”

In the video below is a transcript of that call.

The transportation agency described Pate as “FIGG’s lead engineer responsible for the FIU pedestrian bridge project” and part of the walkway’s “design-build team.”

He did not immediately respond to email queries from Reuters seeking comment on the matter.

At least six people were confirmed killed, and police have said more bodies may be recovered from the rubble. The accident occurred just five days after the 174-foot-long (53-meter) bridge, assembled by the side of the highway, was installed during a six-hour operation.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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