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Family of truck driver killed in Florida bridge collapse sues builders

"They know better than to not shut that roadway down right before that collapse."
Image: At Least 6 Dead After Collapse Of Pedestrian Bridge In Miami
Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board check the scene where a pedestrian bridge collapsed last Thursday in Miami.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The family of a truck driver killed in last week’s collapse of a pedestrian bridge near Florida International University in Miami has filed a lawsuit against two companies involved in the project, saying the roadway below should have been shut down as work continued on the span.

Six people, including Rolando Fraga, 60, were killed when the 950-ton pedestrian bridge collapsed on cars driving on Southwest Eighth Street shortly after 1:30 p.m. last Thursday.

"Safety is paramount in construction cases, and MCM knows that,” attorney Christos Lagos, whose firm is representing Fraga’s widow and his 15-year-old son, said at a news conference in Miami on Thursday, referring to Munilla Construction Management, the contractor. "They know better than to not shut that roadway down right before that collapse."

The suit also names Figg Bridge Engineers, which was MCM's partner in the project. It seeks unspecified damages for Fraga's lost income and for the family's pain and suffering, and Lagos said the family wants the companies held responsible.

The federal National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the collapse.

Image: Rolando Fraga
Rolando Fraga

The NTSB said Wednesday that its investigators have confirmed that workers were adjusting the tension on two tensioning rods at the north end of the span when the bridge collapsed, and workers "had done this same work earlier at the south end, moved to the north side, and had adjusted one rod. They were working on the second rod when the span failed and collapsed."

The suit says, “Post-tensioning operations should not be done without first providing for public safety by precluding any active movement under the structure.”

Related: Collapsed Florida walkway was built using new 'accelerated' bridge technology

The Florida Department of Transportation has said that the lead Figg engineer on the bridge project left a voicemail with the department on a landline saying that cracking had been observed on the bridge two days before the collapse, but it wasn't heard by the employee it was intended for until a day after the collapse, because the employee was out of the office.

In the message, the engineer said, "From a safety perspective we don't see that there's any issue there, so we're not concerned about it from that perspective," but the cracks would have to be repaired, according to a transcript released by the department.

Lagos said he wants to know whether closing Southwest Eighth Street was discussed during a meeting at 9 a.m. the day of the collapse.

Fraga’s 15-year-old son currently lives in a Central American country but had hoped to return to southern Florida to attend FIU and dreamed of becoming an engineer, said Lagos and another partner of the law firm, John Priovolos.

"He wanted to come back to Florida, to Miami, and his dream has been shattered, because of the negligence of MCM and Figg," Lagos said. Lagos said that like many fathers, Fraga's "whole life was his son."

Fraga’s widow, Ana Maria Oviedo Garcia, is a resident of Panama, according to the lawsuit.

The suit claims that at 8:56 a.m. on the day of the collapse, a driver stopped at a traffic light beneath the bridge "heard a sound like a ‘cracking whip’ coming from underneath the bridge.” The driver saw a construction worker look up at the bridge, Lagos said at the news conference. The worker then made eye contact with the driver and rolled his eyes. "Five minutes later, a safety meeting was held, for two hours," Lagos said.

The suit says this shows that the companies knew of an increased harm to the public.

Jorge Munilla, president of MCM, said in a statement, “Right now our focus is working closely with NTSB investigators to help them figure out what caused this accident,” and “litigation matters are being handled by outside counsel.”

Figg said in a statement that it was aware of the announced lawsuit and would "work diligently with authorized investigators in an earnest ongoing effort to determine what led to the accident and what can be done to ensure that nothing like it happens again."

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Fraga's wife and son is the first wrongful-death suit filed since the collapse, the attorneys said.

A bicyclist who claims that he was hurt in the collapse filed a civil lawsuit earlier this week accusing the builders of reckless negligence.