Deal reached for bridge collapse victims

May 2, 2008 5:29:36 PM PDT
Minnesota lawmakers reached agreement on a $38 million compensation package for victims of a deadly bridge collapse, culminating months of work to provide relief beyond the state's legal liability. The deal struck in a joint committee of the House and Senate will offer everyone who was on the bridge up to $400,000, with an additional $12.6 million pool for the people who suffered the most severe injuries and losses. Thirteen people died in the Aug. 1 collapse, and 145 were hurt.

"This is what we've been fighting for the whole time," Kimberly Brown, who suffered back, neck and knee injuries, told reporters Friday. "For everything that everybody's been through, thank God that they have figured out a way to help everybody."

The package is expected to be approved by the Legislature on Monday and sent off to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who called it "needed relief and support" for victims.

If victims agreed to take the money, they would have to sign away their rights to sue the state and other governmental entities in Minnesota. They would not be precluded from suing other parties in the collapse.

The deal came after months of hearings and negotiations among lawmakers.

"We believe this is going to be an offer which the survivors would be well advised to accept," one of the negotiators, Democratic Sen. Ron Latz, said at a news conference.

Victims said they were thankful for 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 she would face if she sued the state.

"There is no way possible that we can get that day back," Holmes 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."

Helen Hausmann lost her husband, Peter - the sole breadwinner for Helen and their four children, ages 8 to 17.

"It's been so hard," she said. "Every day, little things he used to do, you find yourself doing it alone. Things we used to decide, I decide by myself. It's so hard. You once were a family of six; you're a family of five."

The Hausmann family has been getting by on Peter's life insurance policy, and compensation from the state will be a big help, her attorney, Bill Harper, said.

"It will not make her whole," he said. "It is a remarkably positive step to keeping her nose above water as she pursues the other potential remedies."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the collapse. Officials have focused on a design flaw involving gussets, the plates that help connect steel beams, and the weight of construction materials at vulnerable points in the bridge. Victim lawsuits are on hold until a final determination is made.


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