Insurers ask federal court to drop them from covering engineering firm in pedestrian bridge collapse

By Karen Kidd | Jul 10, 2018

MIAMI (Florida Record) —   Two national insurance companies are hoping a federal court in Miami will rule that they don't have to cover or defend a Tallahassee engineering firm in litigation that followed a fatal pedestrian bridge collapse at a university near Miami in March.

The Travelers Indemnity Company and The Phoenix Insurance Company, both based in Hartford, Connecticut, say they should not have to cover or defend because they were unaware of a business arrangement between bridge designer Figg Bridge Engineers and Miami-Dade-based Munilla Construction Management (MCM).

"The joint venture and/or partnership was never disclosed to Travelers and Phoenix," the two insurance companies said in their 18-page complaint for declaratory relief filed June 27 in U.S. District Court for Florida Southern District, Miami Division. "There is no coverage under Travelers' and Phoenix's policies issued to Figg for any damages caused by the joint venture and/or partnership between Figg and MCM, as such joint venture and/or partnership was never disclosed to Travelers and Phoenix and does not qualify as an insured under either of the Policies issued to Figg."

Travelers and Phoenix are suing Figg Bridge Engineers and about two dozen individuals and estates -- including one man on behalf of his three minor children – as defendants, all referred to in the case as "the claimants".  

The case asks the court to determine "an actual controversy between the parties as to the scope of Travelers' and Phoenix's obligations, if any, to defend and indemnify Figg for claims arising out of the collapse of a bridge in Miami-Dade County, Florida." Phoenix also seeks reimbursement, attorney fees and costs incurred while defending Figg in the resulting lawsuits.

Six people were killed and others injured when the new pedestrian bridge between Florida International University and the community of Sweetwater, designed by Figg Bridge Engineers, collapsed March 15. Construction worker Brandon Cory Brownfield, Alexa Duran, 18, Navaro Brown, 37, Rolando Fraga, 60, Oswald Gonzalez, 57, and Alberto Arias, 54, died when the $14.3 million, 174-foot-long, 950-ton bridge collapsed suddenly, five days after it had been put into place over Tamiami Trail. 

Personal representatives for the estates of Duran, Brown, Fraga, Gonzalez and Arias, crushed to death in vehicles stopped at a red light under the span, as well the estate of Brownfield, all are listed as defendants, or "claimants", in the case.

Munilla Construction Management is not listed among defendants or "claimants".

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Maria Altonaga.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the insurance companies by attorneys from the Coral Gables firm Hinshaw & Culbertson under case No. 1:18-cv-22585-CMA.

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