U.S. SC won't block Minn. suit against firm over bridge collapse

Jessica M. Karmasek May 30, 2012, 10:00am

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court will allow Minnesota's lawsuit against a design firm over a deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis to move forward.

In an order list Tuesday, the nation's high court denied review of the case, Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. v. Minnesota. It did not provide a reason for its decision.

The I-35W Mississippi River Bridge, officially known as Bridge 9340, was an eight-lane, steel truss arch bridge that carried Interstate 35W across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

During evening rush hour on Aug. 1, 2007, the bridge suddenly collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring nearly 150.

The bridge was one of Minnesota's busiest, carrying more than 100,000 vehicles a day.

Following the collapse, the National Transportation Safety Board cited a design flaw as the likely cause and that additional weight on the bridge at the time of the accident contributed to its failure.

Soon after, individual plaintiffs filed lawsuits for negligence, breach of contract and resulting damages against URS Corporation, or URS, and Progressive Contractors Inc., or PCI, the contractors that performed work on the bridge pursuant to contracts entered into with the State.

URS and PCI then brought third-party complaints against Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., on the basis that the Pasadena, Calif., firm's predecessor negligently designed the bridge. PCI also filed a third-party complaint against the State.

The State cross-claimed against Jacobs for contribution, indemnity and statutory reimbursement under Minnesota Statute 3.7394, subd. 5(a).

Jacobs, in turn, moved to dismiss the State's cross-claim as time-barred, arguing that neither the 2007 amendments to Minnesota Statute 541.051 nor the reimbursement provision of the compensation statutes, 3.7394, subd. 5(a), revived actions against Jacobs that had been previously extinguished by a prior version of the statute of repose.

A district court denied the motion, and an appeals court affirmed.

In November, Minnesota's high court also ruled that the lawsuit could move forward.

It concluded that 3.7394, subd. 5(a), retroactively revives the State's action for statutory reimbursement against Jacobs; that section 3.7394, subdivision 5(a), does not violate Jacobs' constitutional right to due process; and that revival of the action for statutory reimbursement does not unconstitutionally impair the firm's contractual obligations.

In its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Jacobs had argued that too much time has passed since the bridge was originally built.

Construction began on the bridge in 1964. It opened to traffic in 1967.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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