In the wake of the collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University (FIU) onto a heavily traveled road in Miami-Dade County on March 15th of this year, many questions have been asked regarding what structural engineers working for the contractors responsible for the construction of the bridge and the FIU engineers overseeing the project’s progress may have known regarding the bridge’s condition prior to its collapse. According to a Miami Herald report, workers employed by the contractors building the bridge, FIGG Bridge Group and Munilla Construction Management, saw cracks appearing in the bridge on March 13th and one employee even reportedly took pictures of the cracks.
A number of independent engineering experts told the Herald they believe the contractors’ actions in ignoring the cracks and not bringing them to the attention of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which could have shut down the busy road running underneath the bridge, constituted professional misconduct. However, no criminal charges have been filed in connection with the bridge’s collapse. Indeed, this may be unlikely, as the Miami-Dade State Attorney has been criticized for saying shortly after the collapse occurred that it was “improbable” any criminal charges would be filed in connection with the FIU bridge collapse. This may be due to the difficulty in proving and prevailing upon any such criminal charges given the heightened standard that is required to prove a contractor or its employees’ actions constituted criminal conduct under Florida law.
Further Details Regarding the Bridge’s Collapse That Have Emerged
A meeting was held between FIU and its contractors the morning of the bridge’s collapse to discuss the issue of the cracks that had appeared. An FDOT spokesman told the Herald that the agency was not informed of the cracks prior to the bridge’s collapse. However, the chief structural engineer responsible for the project allegedly reported the cracks two days before the collapse in a voicemail to an FDOT official in which the engineer also claimed the cracks did not pose any safety issues. Meanwhile, FDOT is currently fighting the Miami Herald in a freedom of information lawsuit in state court over the release of documents that would reflect exactly what it knew about the cracks in the bridge prior to its collapse. The FDOT’s knowledge, and particularly whether it was informed of the cracks’ existence prior to the bridge’s collapse, is a key question because the FDOT had the authority to shut down Tamiami Trail, the road the bridge spanned, to motor vehicle traffic if requested by either FIU or the contractors performing the work. This episode is particularly concerning given that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released four photos showing major cracks in the bridge that are all time-stamped March 13 or 14, the two days prior to the bridge’s collapse. One crack appears to be almost 3.5 inches deep.
What is Florida Law Regarding Manslaughter or Other Potential Charges Against Those Involved in the Construction of the Bridge and Its Collapse?
Manslaughter is one of the possible charges that has been discussed that could potentially be filed against employees of the contractors responsible for the bridge’s construction in connection with the FIU bridge collapse. However, the burden of proof for a prosecutor to succeed in not only proving, but charging, such an offense is very high indeed. The more likely charge would be culpable negligence, which under Florida Statutes Section 784.05, prosecutors have to show that defendants acted with “reckless disregard for human life” or had “a grossly careless disregard for the safety and welfare of the public” in connection with an incident that exposed someone to personal injury or actually resulted in someone’s death or injuries, such as the FIU bridge collapse. Not only must prosecutors clear this hurdle, however, but they must also show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants acted in such a manner. This is a high bar to meet, and there is serious doubt as to whether anyone will actually be prosecuted for any criminal offenses, let alone manslaughter or culpable negligence, in connection with the FIU bridge collapse.
As it stands, the Miami-Dade Police Department’s homicide unit is investigating the tragedy, while also awaiting the results of the NTSB’s investigation on what caused the bridge collapse. Nevertheless, the history in Miami-Dade County of prosecuting contractors for construction-related accidents is not good, given that Miami-Dade prosecutors have failed to file any criminal charges in at least three other high-profile construction accident cases that resulted in multiple fatalities in the past ten years.
Contact Experienced West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney Bryan Raymond If You Have Been Charged with Manslaughter or Any Other Crime in Palm Beach County
If you have been charged with manslaughter or any similar serious offense under Florida law, you will need an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney when you are facing the most serious of criminal charges. This is particularly true if you find yourself facing such serious charges in a setting such as the FIU bridge collapse, where the prosecution’s burden of proof could be very difficult to meet and there will be many opportunities for an experienced defense attorney to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, which will be very technical and require large amounts of evidence that can be challenged by an experienced attorney. If you have been arrested in Palm Beach County and need an experienced criminal defense attorney, contact Bryan M. Raymond of the Law Office of Bryan Raymond today and you can be assured of aggressive, zealous representation. If you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach County, contact experienced criminal defense attorney Bryan Raymond today at (561) 682-1115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.