The Minnesota legislature has given final approval of a 38 million compensation package for victims of last year’s bridge collapse.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously Monday, May 5th after clearing the House on a 127-5 vote. Senators observed a moment of silence in memory of the victims, before applause broke out on the floor and in the gallery above.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he plans to sign the bill in the next few days. “It’s a needed and important thing for the bridge victims,” he said at an unrelated Capitol news conference.
The bill recognizes “a catastrophe of historic proportions” when the bridge fell on Aug. 1, killing 13 and injuring 145. Everyone who was on the bridge when it fell and their survivors and legal guardians would qualify for up to $400,000 under the plan.
Those whose injuries and losses were more severe could get more money for uncovered medical costs and wage losses from a $12.6 million supplemental fund. Exact amounts will be determined later by a panel of lawyers.
The bill also contains $750,000 for administration and $610,000 for social services for a group of child victims through a Minneapolis community center.
“No other structure owned by this state has ever fallen with such devastating physical and psychological impact on so many,” the bill reads.
State Rep. Ryan Winkler, the bill’s House sponsor, said the package ensures that victims will get the financial help they need now, instead of waiting years for lawsuits to finish. He said the state may be able to recover its money in court after the cause of the collapse and the role of private companies have been determined.
“What we’re doing is making sure that the survivors are not held hostage to that litigation process while that’s being sorted out,” Winkler said.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators are still probing the cause of the bridge collapse. A final report is expected later this year. Their focus so far has been on a design flaw involving gussets, the plates that connect steel beams, and the weight of construction materials at vulnerable points in the bridge.
Victims who take a settlement must give up the right to sue the state and other units of government in Minnesota, but they do not waive the right to sue others. The state is not admitting any liability.
The Minnesota Supreme Court must appoint the compensation panel by June 30, and collapse survivors have until Oct. 15 to file a claim.
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