IMAGE: COLLAPSED BRIDGE
Jim Mone  /  AP
The Minneapolis skyline is shown in the distance in this view last Aug. 31 of the collapsed Interstate 35W Bridge.
updated 5/2/2008 12:32:31 PM ET 2008-05-02T16:32:31

State lawmakers said Friday they reached a $38 million agreement to compensate victims of the Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people and injured 145 others.

Rep. Ryan Winkler and Sen. Ron Latz said a House and Senate conference committee agreed to the deal overnight. The full Legislature was expected to approve the compromise Monday and send it to the governor, who supports it.

“It provides needed relief and support for victims and family members directly impacted by the I-35W bridge tragedy,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty said.

Chris Messerly, an attorney for many victims of the Aug. 1 collapse, said the plan addresses a key sticking point in committee negotiations — whether to recognize the state’s liability limit by capping awards to individual victims.

Messerly said the deal would allow victims to get up to $400,000 each. For the worst injured, an extra $12.6 million is available to cover uncompensated medical expenses, ongoing health insurance costs and lost wages.

“For many people, this will be closure for them and that is so critically important,” Messerly said.

Victims and relatives would have to agree not to sue the state if they accept settlements under the compromise.

Jennifer Holmes, who lost her husband, Patrick, in the collapse, thanked lawmakers and said she plans to take the settlement to avoid the waiting and uncertainty of litigation

“There is no way possible that we can get that day back,” she said. “Or get back what we have been through in losing our loved ones or going through numerous surgeries that people are still doing. But this does help in making sure that we have a safe future.”

The bridge buckled and collapsed into the Mississippi River during the evening rush hour, sending cars and construction equipment into the water and leaving a yellow school bus and other vehicles clinging precariously to tilting pavement. It took divers almost three weeks to recover all the bodies.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the disaster. Officials have focused on a design flaw involving beam-connecting steel plates and the weight of construction materials at vulnerable points in the bridge. Victim lawsuits are on hold until a final determination is made.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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