FIU Bridge Collapse Leads to Legal Fight

TALLAHASSEE — Six years after the deadly collapse of a Florida International University pedestrian bridge, Tallahassee-based companies affiliated with a bridge-engineering firm are fighting a proposal that could prevent them from working on federally funded projects.

Nine companies and their owner, Linda Figg, filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking to block the proposal by the Federal Highway Administration. The companies are affiliated with FIGG Bridge Engineers, Inc., which designed the Miami-Dade County pedestrian bridge and was barred in 2021 from working on federally funded projects until 2029.

The lawsuit said the federal agency in September gave notice of a proposal to “debar” Figg and the affiliated companies. If ultimately issued, debarment would “bar them from doing business on any project wholly or partially funded with federal funds for the same period” as FIGG Bridge Engineers.

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“The record on which the notice of proposal to debar was based contained no evidence that Linda Figg or any of the affiliated companies had any involvement in or knowledge of the actions found by the government agencies to have been the probable causes of the bridge accident; no evidence of a history or culture of negligence or tolerance of negligent behavior; no history of failure to adhere to the highest standards of safety; and no other evidence that would make them culpable in connection with the bridge accident,” the lawsuit said.

The pedestrian bridge, which was under construction, collapsed on March 15, 2018, crushing cars and killing five motorists and one construction worker. Federal investigators determined that FIGG Bridge Engineers made design errors and did not “identify the significance” of structural cracking before the collapse, said a September memorandum from the Federal Highway Administration about the proposal to debar the affiliated companies.

The memorandum, which was filed in court with the lawsuit, cited connections between the affiliated companies and the “continued intent of Ms. Figg and the FIGG affiliated companies to seek bridge contracts for design, construction, management and inspection.”

“That affiliation record proves that Ms. Figg and the FIGG affiliated companies have interlocking management and ownership; identity of interests for Ms. Figg as owner; shared facilities in the same principal place of business; and common use of management employees,” the memorandum said.

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The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tallahassee, raises a series of arguments, including that affiliation of companies is not enough to legally justify debarment. It seeks an injunction and a ruling that the federal agency has violated due-process rights.

“Debarment based solely on affiliation when there is no evidence of wrongdoing or threat to public safety or to the integrity of the federal contracting system is beyond the authority delegated to defendants by federal statutes and regulations,” the lawsuit, filed by Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard, said.

In addition to Figg, the plaintiffs are FIGG Group, Inc.; FIGG Bridge Inspection, Inc.; FIGG Bridge Builders, LLC; FIGG Bridge Builders, Inc.; FIGG Bridge Managers, LLC; FIGG Bridge Developers, Inc.; F&M Engineers, Inc.; FIGG Engineering Group, Inc.; and Cline Precast, LLC.

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