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More lawsuits filed over the Miami bridge collapse

A week after a pedestrian bridge collapsed in Miami, killing six people and injuring another 10, investigators are still working to answer what caused the 950-ton structure to crash into several cars stopped at a red light below.

Several lawsuits have been filed by families and friends of victims since last week’s collapse at Florida International University.

Here’s a quick rundown of what the lawsuits claim and what’s next as the investigation into the bridge’s failure moves forward.

Who are the victims?

Recovery efforts ended this past weekend after police announced that they believed all victims have been recovered from the wreckage. In total, five bodies were removed from underneath the bridge. Another later died in a local hospital.

The victims were later identified by both police and families of the dead. Their ages ranged from 18 to 60, the Miami Herald reported, with the youngest victim being Florida International University student Alexa Duran. Navaro Brown, Brandon Brownfield, Rolando Fraga Hernandez, Osvaldo Gonzalez, Alberto Arias also died from the collapse. Gonzalez and Arias had been life partners for 21 years.

A vigil was held at the university Wednesday to honor the victims. Afterward, thousands of mourners, carrying ivory daisies, walked to a memorial nearby the crash site. A prayer service was also scheduled Thursday, to begin at the exact time of the bridge collapse a week earlier.

What lawsuits have been filed?

The first lawsuit related to the collapse was filed in court Monday on behalf of cyclist Marquise Hepburn, who was injured while passing by that day.

The lawsuit alleged negligence by FIGG Bridge Engineers and Munilla Construction Management, the two firms involved in the construction of the bridge. The lawsuit said Hepburn is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 from the firms, The Wall Street Journal reported. Hepburn’s lawyer told reporters that the 24-year-old was knocked off his bicycle when a car veered into his path to avoid the collapsing bridge.

The same law firm representing Hepburn also filed a civil lawsuit of behalf of FIU student Emily Panagos, 21, whose car was crushed in the collapse. Panagos survived the incident.

Later this week, another lawsuit was filed on behalf of the family of victim Rolando Fraga, 60, who died in the collapse. The lawyer representing the family said the companies behind the project should have closed the roadway while the bridge was still being constructed, NBC News reported. The bridge was originally slated to open to the public next year.

And the families of Alberto Arias, 53, and Osvaldo Gonzalez, 57, also signaled that they were filing a wrongful death lawsuit, the Miami Herald reported after funeral services for the men this week. The men, who were partners for more than 20 years, both died inside their truck in the collapse.

What went wrong?

The $14.2 million pedestrian bridge was intended to allow students to safely cross from Florida International University’s main campus over a six-lane highway to a cluster of off-campus housing.

Celebrated as a “one-of-a-kind” project by the university, the bridge was raised over the course of a Saturday morning. Then, five days later, it collapsed.

The lawsuits emerged after the Florida Department of Transportation released a transcript of a call made by the project’s lead engineer, telling state officials that he had spotted cracks in the structure.

Here’s part of what the engineer said in his voicemail, according to the provided transcript: “Calling to, uh, share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that’s been observed on the north end of the span, the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend. Um, so, uh, we’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that.”

The voicemail was left days before the bridge’s collapse. FDOT said the message wasn’t heard until March 16 because the employee was out of office on assignment.

FDOT also said the agency normally issues a permit for partial or full road closures “if deemed necessary and requested by the FIU design build team.”

The federal investigation into the incident is ongoing and the exact cause of the collapse has yet to be determined. It’s not clear if any known cracks are the actual cause for the bridge’s failure.

NTSB previously confirmed that workers were adjusting tension on the two rods at the north end of the span when the bridge collapsed.

“They 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,” NTSB said in a statement.

The roadway was not closed when the workers were readjusting the tension for the bridge.

The speedy construction process used to raise the bridge is also being scrutinized, the Associated Press reported.

What’s next?

NTSB said it was sending samples from the crash site to a research center in McLean, Virginia, for evaluation, and investigators are gathering interviews from witnesses and those involved in the project. In the coming weeks, NTSB is expected to release a preliminary report of their findings, although a cause for the collapse may still not be determined then, the Herald reported.

Miami-Dade police are also conducting a homicide investigation to determine whether charges should be filed over negligence.

And the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Transportation will also investigate the bridge collapse, the Washington Post reported. An announcement about the audit is expected next week, the Post said.

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