Contractors Liable for Failed Decking


Three contractors will pay a total of $4.4 million to Multnomah County, OR, for a bridge redecking project that failed shortly after completion.

On Friday (March 3), a county Circuit Court jury found negligence on the part of four contractors involved in the 2011-12 Morrison Bridge project, in which the lift span's open steel deck grating was replaced with ZellComp Fiber-Reinforced Composite (FRC) panels. (The material is also known as Fiber-Reinforced Polymer, or FRP.)

The six-lane bridge, which opened in 1958, is the busiest of six bridges over the Willamette River in Portland. The bridge carries about 50,000 vehicles a day.

Loose Decking, Failed Fasteners

ZellComp Inc., of Durham, NC, had boasted on its site that the 17,000-square-foot Morrison Bridge deck would be the company's largest ever. It called the composite decking material "maintenance free, with a life of 75-100 years."

The Morrison Bridge panels, however, started cracking, shifting and losing their fasteners shortly after the $5 million project was completed in March 2012.

The county complained to contractor Conway Construction of Ridgefield, WA, that the decking was defective even before final acceptance of the project, while warranties were still in effect.

Officials said that the FRC decking panels had come loose, damaging them, the fiberglass topcoat, and the roadway—and that the problem was getting worse.

Later, the county also alleged that the system's mechanical fasteners—"which ZellComp specified, supplied, instructed upon installation, and oversaw and approved the installation of"—had failed.

Multnomah County via KOIN-TV

A recent inspection video by Multnomah County shows cracked beams and loose decking on the Morrison Bridge.

KOIN-TV reported in January 2014 that the "deck surface is falling apart, kept usable by a series of temporary patches and daily inspections." The county said the bridge was safe to use.

Who's Responsible

The project's failure sparked a flood of suits and countersuits among the county, suppliers and contractor, with each party essentially blaming the others for the problems.

The jury verdict in the county's case found negligence by ZellComp Inc.; New York City-based engineering firm Hardesty & Hanover; contractor Conway Construction of Ridgefield, WA; and  manufacturer Strongwell Corp., of Bristol, VA. However, the jurors did not award damages by Strongwell.

In all, the jurors found after an 11-day trial that the county had sustained $5.6 million in damages but was itself responsible for 22 percent of the negligence. (The county had specified the use of the ZellComp product.)

So the award was reduced by that percentage.

The jurors found:

  • ZellComp responsible for 40 percent of the damages, or $2.3 million;
  • Hardesty & Hanover responsible for 21 percent, or $1.2 million; and
  • Conway Construction responsible for 17 percent, or $959,990.


In a statement, County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury called the verdict "a great outcome for the citizens of Multnomah County."

"We are ultimately responsible for maintaining a safe bridge for the public's use, and we take that job seriously," Kafoury said in the statement reported by


Multnomah County officials say the Morrison Bridge is safe, despite the damage.

"When contracting with professionals to do work for us, we have high expectations that they will perform the work they were contracted to do."

None of the four defendants responded Monday (March 3) to a request for comment on the verdict.

FRC Technology

ZellComp's website describes the FRC decking as a "cost efficient and fast to install" system that uses "innovative materials ... with a lower carbon footprint."

ZellComp Inc.

ZellComp Inc. calls its Fiber-Reinforced Polymer technology lightweight, durable and maintenance free. The Morrison Bridge materials were to have a 30-year life.

ZellComp says the two-part design "offer[s] a long-term solution for new highway bridge construction and provide[s] a way to greatly extend the life of many deteriorating bridges."

It calls the system lightweight, strong, corrosion resistant, suitable for accelerated construction, and maintenance free.

The company says its FRC decks "have gained wide acceptance." Its site still boasted Monday of the product's use on the Morrison Bridge.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Contractors; Lawsuits; North America; Polymers; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Specifiers; Steel

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