New York City Bridge Collapse Accident Attorney


Bridges in the United States

There are approximately 607,000 bridges in the United States. In 2012 over 11% of those bridges were deemed structurally deficient by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). While that is an alarming statistic in itself, the FHA also reported that the average age of a standard, often-used, and in-operation bridge is 42 years. It is not difficult to realize that bridges that are decades old have the need for regular maintenance, attention and repair, particularly as traffic increases and weather breaks down or corrodes certain elements of construction. Realistically, however, doing so would be a huge, lengthy and difficult undertaking. Not only would an overhaul require extensive time to reconstruct or service many of those bridges, but considerations for alternate routes and modes of transportation would be implemented and surely inconvenience commuters on a daily basis. Many states are not prepared to spend their budgets servicing bridges without an incident to support that spending. Yet, when we have a bridge collapse, we often question why the deficiencies were not detected sooner.

History of Bridges

The earliest of bridges were built centuries ago and were generally constructed of wood such as in the case of drawbridges or covered bridges. Today, wooden bridges are still found throughout the United States, although many of them have restrictions for the amount and frequency of travel allowed on them. Over time, as technology developed, bridges were constructed from steel to accommodate railway travel. Today, as we know common bridges, we find them to be complex instruments of engineering and sophistication withstanding weight-bearing loads of thousands of pounds and servicing thousands of commuters daily. We trust that bridges are repaired, maintained and inspected for travel, and think nothing of our safety being jeopardized when we roll our vehicles onto the bridges. Along with our trust, however, we have also seen bridge collapse accidents, proving that no matter how secure a bridge appears, an accident involving a bridge collapse could happen at any time. There are several types of bridges and several types of accidents that occur.

Types of Bridges

Four main types of bridges dominate the categories of construction, and each presents its own set of challenges and issues.

  • Suspension (or cable-stayed) bridges are constructed so that the roadway is held up by cables and supported by towers.
  • Arch bridges are constructed with the roadway located at the top part of the arch. The bridge is kept up at the points where the arch reaches the ground.
  • Beam bridges are popular, and are generally constructed with concrete or steel supported by beams or pillars.
  • Cantilever bridges feature two anchored beams that support another beam where the roadway of the bridge is located.

With the various types of bridges, it is important for precise initial construction and ongoing maintenance to be conducted on a regular basis in order to avoid a mishap once the construction is finished.

Bridge Collapses in the United States

Bridges are generally designed for a life span of 50 years, assuming that ongoing maintenance and inspections occur during that time. The FHA reports that, while the average age of bridges is 42 years old, at least 30% of existing bridges are well over 50 years old, and some of those bridges have yet to be corrected, replaced or deemed obsolete for travel. Bridge collapses occur across the entire country, from the oldest standing suspension bridge in the United States, the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, to the Oakland Bridge in California and many states in between. Many of us recall the 2007 Mississippi River Bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which happened during rush hour, deeming it the worst event of its kind in 25 years. Here are some incidents and reasons for bridge collapses:

  • High winds. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State collapsed in 1940 after swaying and falling into the water during moderate weather conditions. While the winds did not gust at high speeds, a sudden sway rocked the bridge to the point of devastation.
  • Corrosion and material fault. The Silver Bridge in West Virginia collapsed in 1962, killing 46 people. The collapse was caused by a damaged link and chain when the link snapped.
  • Deterioration of footings from rainfall. The rainfall over time loosened the security of footings and caused the collapse of the Schoharie Creek Mill Point Bridge in Fort Hunter, New York.
  • Shifting water current and buildup of debris. The force of the debris against the supports of the beams caused the Hatchie River Bridge in Covington, Tennessee to collapse.
  • Pontoons filling with water. The Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge, which connects Seattle to Bellevue, Washington fell to pieces and sank after the pontoons flooded over time. Completed in 1940, it was the longest running floating bridge before the disaster.
  • Water Buildup and Inadequate Drainage. The Mianus River Bridge in Connecticut collapsed when a fracture went undetected. It was later discovered that the maintenance crew had blocked the drain during construction ten years earlier. The drains had never been unblocked.

Bridge collapses can occur when links or chains are damaged, or when parts of the bridge are hit by a boat or other vehicle. A boat can easily misjudge height restrictions, or discover too late that it is heading toward the bridge. Hidden defects and faulty foundation can cause accidents, showing that multiple elements could be to blame. Bridge accidents happen when black ice forms on parts of the bridge, causing cars to lose control and run into other cars, or plummet over the side of the bridge and hit a part of the bridge that offers support. The number of fatalities and injuries run the gamut from zero to hundreds, and range in severity with scrapes and bruises from falling into the water, to drowning, hypothermia, head injuries and broken bones.

Commuters rely on crossing bridges daily to get to and from work. Many bridges also service as access to popular destinations as with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or the Coronado Bridge in San Diego, both in California. A bridge collapse accident is frightening and can cause severe tragedy both on the bridge, and once the vehicles have plummeted to the waters below, trapping or injuring those inside.

If you have been injured or know someone who has been injured or died as a result of a bridge collapse or accident, there could be various municipalities involved in determining the cause. Bridges generally connect one state with another, or one part of the country with other and determining the boundaries of the accident are difficult when water is involved. The process for seeking compensation can be quickly and efficiently started when you fill out the Bridge Collapse and Accident Case Evaluation Form here. You can also contact our firm toll free at (855) TOP-FIRM (855-867-3476) to further discuss your case. After an initial consultation, we will be able to determine the steps and documentation required to move forward with settling your case. We are standing by to assist.