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Minn. offers settlements to bridge victims

Associated Press / February 28, 2009
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ST. PAUL - Compensation offers have gone out to 179 victims of the Minneapolis bridge collapse, giving them until mid-April to decide whether to take the state help.

Lawyers expect most victims to accept the settlements.

Susan Holden, who headed the compensation panel that divided $36.4 million among the victims, said lawsuits would bring the victims far less state money because of liability limits. Accepting settlements requires them to give up their right to sue the government, but not the private companies that worked on the bridge.

"I don't really see any reasonable alternative but to take it and to take it fast," said lawyer Chris Messerly, speaking for a legal coalition representing 117 victims.

The Interstate 35W bridge collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007, killing 13 and injuring 145.

The Legislature established the victim compensation fund last year, recognizing the bridge collapse as a historic catastrophe.

Holden said the panel divided the full amount among the victims, but no one will be fully covered for their losses. The value of individual settlements will range widely.

Victims are seeking more by going after the private companies. Four victims have sued URS Corp., an engineering consultant that analyzed the structure, and Progressive Contractors Inc., whose crews were resurfacing the span when it fell. Messerly said his clients are preparing separate lawsuits against the companies.

Progressive Contractors filed paperwork earlier this month to add the state and Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., the successor company of the bridge's designer, as defendants.

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