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Suit Filed in 2014 College Bridge Collapse

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

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Just days after the two-year anniversary of a bridge collapse during construction on Wake Technical Community College’s Raleigh, NC, campus, a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the workers affected by the incident.

The suit seeks more than $250,000 in financial damages for the death of one worker, Jose Luis Rosales-Nava, and injuries to four others: Omar Lopez-Bahena, Carlos R. Chavez-Rojas and Jose M. Hernandez-Salinas, Raleigh’s News & Observer reported Friday (Nov. 18).

View of collapsed girders
Photos: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the workers injured or killed when a new pedestrian bridge collapsed in the midst of a concrete pour in November 2014.

Only two of the companies involved in the project are being pursued for damages via the grievance: Virginia Beach, VA-based architectural and engineering firm Clark Nexsen, which reportedly served as the “architect of record” for the job, and laminated wood timbers manufacturer Structurlam Products Limited of Penticton, BC.

Individuals also named in the suit include Don Kranbuehl, a structural engineer and architect with Clark Nexsen, and Kris Spickler, a structural engineer with Structurlam subsidiary The Heavy Timber Group, the News & Observer noted.

Wake Tech is not named in the complaint, nor is general contractor Skanska USA.

Collapse During Bridge Pour

The collapse occurred the morning of Nov. 13, 2014, during a concrete pour on the center span of a new pedestrian bridge installed as part of the community college’s $47.5 million campus expansion project.

The 140-foot-long span dropped about 40 feet to the ground, according to reports at the time. Some workers managed to escape; others were scattered underneath among “thousands of pounds of wood, concrete and steel,” the suit stated.

Rosales-Nava, then aged 42 and the father of three, was killed instantly when the top of one of the beams landed on him; the others were transported to an area hospital with what were reported as severe injuries.

The injured men suffered “the loss of body parts and the use of their body parts” as a result of the accident, the court document noted.

view of collapsed girder

Forty-two-year old Jose Luis Rosales-Nava was killed when the top of one of the beams landed on him in the collapse; three others were transported to an area hospital with serious injuries, which the lawsuit alleges resulted in “the loss of body parts and the use of their body parts.”

Robert Zaytoun, the Raleigh attorney who filed the complaint on behalf of the men in Wake County District Court, said all of the affected workers were hired by Raleigh-based J.O. Concrete Services and were supposed to be on another job site that day.

About 14 hours later, a second under-construction bridge of similar design collapsed on the campus. No injuries were reported in the second incident, and no one was at the construction site when that bridge went down.

In both cases, the center span gave way.

Experts’ Concerns Allegedly Rejected

The lawsuit alleges that the fatal accident could have been avoided if the project’s lead structural engineers had heeded experts’ warnings about potential weaknesses of the pedestrian bridges’ designs.

According to OSHA, the first bridge was approximately 245 feet long with a suspended center span of 140 feet and two end-supported spans of 62 feet and 42 feet. The end spans were supported over V-columns. The second bridge was skewed and had two suspended spans with end and middle spans being supported over V-columns. It carried a total length of approximately 440 feet.

Both bridges were through girder bridges consisting of two 13½-inch by 60-inch deep glued laminated (glulam) beams with wainscot also of glulam. According to the Engineered Wood Association, glued laminated timber is, pound for pound, stronger than steel and has greater strength and stiffness than comparably sized dimensional lumber.

collapsed girders

Skanska’s “high risk structures group” reportedly alerted the campus project group that the glue-laminated beams were “overstressed” and recommended adding reinforcement to the beams; the project group, however, allegedly disagreed with the assessment.

The suspended span had one 6-inch diameter steel pipe king post at the center supported over wire cables connected at each end of the center span. The clear width of the bridge was 12 feet.

The deck of the bridge consisted of poured-in-place concrete over metal deck supported over steel beams at 10 feet or 12 feet on centers.

A North Carolina Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Division investigation into the accident determined in April 2015 that notches in the bridge girders were poorly designed, preventing the bridges from being able to hold the weight of the structures.

After reviewing the designs, Skanska’s “high risk structures group” reportedly voiced concerns that the glue-laminated beams were “overstressed” and recommended adding reinforcement to the beams. However, the project group disagreed, stating, “Our analysis indicates the stresses to the glue laminate [beams] do not exceed allowable limits,” the lawsuit noted.

OSHNC likewise had determined that Stewart Engineering Inc., the Raleigh, NC-based firm hired to prepare shop drawings for the bridge, should have been aware of these design flaws.

Although Stewart Engineering is not named in this suit, the claim alleges that Clark Nexsen holds contractual liability as it had hired Stewart Engineering to assist with the engineering design of the bridge and thus agreed “to bear ultimate responsibility for preparing all the approved drawings, which included bridge drawings, during the schematic design phase.”

As a result, the suit maintains the defendants “failed to properly appreciate the risk and failed to warn others or take the necessary steps to correct obvious problems,” according to the News & Observer.

“The second bridge fell with only 25 percent of the weight it was designed to carry,” Zaytoun said. “Can you imagine what would have happened if a group of people had been walking across it?”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Colleges and Universities; Department of Labor; Design; Engineers; Fatalities; Girder; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Lawsuits; North America; OSHA

Comment from John Forrest, (12/6/2016, 11:20 AM)

It would have been helpful to have included a sketch showing the basic concept of the bridges and where the failures occurred.

Comment from Amy Woodall, (12/6/2016, 11:33 AM)

Hello John, diagrams are available in the OSHA investigation report referenced in the story; it is available here: OSHA Report. Thanks for reading.

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