When the collapse of a highway bridge makes headlines, we are shocked by the deaths and injuries caused and reminded of our country’s aging infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says 42% of all bridges in the U.S. are at least 50 years old, and 7.5% are considered structurally deficient. Structurally deficient means that one or more of the key structural elements — the deck, superstructure, substructure, or culverts — is in poor condition or worse.
It’s not just old bridges that collapse due to deterioration and neglect. As the collapse of arches over a new pedestrian bridge in Hickory, NC, in February 2022 and the collapse of a pedestrian bridge being constructed on Wake Tech’s Northern Wake Campus in Raleigh, NC, in 2015 indicate, new bridges also can fail due to faulty design or construction.
When a bridge collapse occurs, anyone on or near the bridge can be injured or killed. Bridge collapse survivors or family members of those who were killed may seek compensation for their losses. A legal claim that involves government entities, the failure of engineering structures, and/or negligent construction requires a law firm with experience and resources to pursue a complex case. In North Carolina, the bridge collapse lawyers at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. are ready to provide you with dedicated legal guidance.
For a free case evaluation, call us or fill out our online contact form now. You’ll pay no attorney’s fee unless and until you receive compensation from your claim.
Who Is Liable After a Bridge Collapse in North Carolina?
Highway bridges are typically owned by the state under the authority of the Department of Transportation or by a municipality. A bridge at a state school, like Wake Tech, is owned by the state. By law, North Carolina counties do not own or maintain roads and bridges.
This means a legal claim after being injured in a bridge failure might be filed against a governmental entity. State and local governments have adopted laws that waive the doctrine of sovereign immunity, in certain situations, but they’ve established strict procedures and deadlines for suing them.
Local governments in North Carolina have immunity from lawsuits when the act in question occurred while the government (or its employee) was performing governmental functions. Governmental functions are those traditionally performed by governmental bodies for the benefit of the public, such as overseeing the construction or maintenance of a bridge.
The investigation into a bridge failure would focus on the private designers, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, or inspection and maintenance companies hired by the state or municipality to construct, inspect, and maintain the bridge. Often a bridge collapse is found to have occurred because of faulty design or construction of the bridge.
A person employed to work on a bridge who was injured when it collapsed would seek workers’ compensation. In North Carolina, an injured worker cannot sue their employer for negligence. If the liable party was not their employer, the worker may pursue a third-party lawsuit as an injured construction worker.