A lawsuit filed Friday alleges serious flaws in the construction of a girder that fell from the new twin spans being built across Lake Pontchartrain, killing one worker and plunging nine others into the water.
The flaws in the girder, made by Gulf Coast Pre-Stress of Pass Christian, Miss., were known to both the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the company responsible for engineering and inspection of the construction of the $800 million Interstate 10 bridge, according to the suit filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.
Eric Blackmon, 44, and nine other workers fell 30 feet into the lake when the concrete girder rotated off its piling in October. Blackmon drowned, and several other workers were injured.
The 30-ton concrete girders are typically designed with holes for securing them to the pilings and to a “diaphragm” that connects the girders, which support the roadway, said Chris Glover, an attorney representing Blackmon’s family. However, the suit alleges that the holes in the girders used on the twin spans project did not line up properly with inserts used to secure them.
Rather than recasting the girders, additional holes were drilled and epoxy inserts were added to secure the beams to the diaphragm, said Glover, an attorney with Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Ala. After workers added a 5,000-pound metal platform to the girder, the additional weight caused the beam to break loose and roll off the piling, he said.
In addition to Gulf Coast Pre-Stress, the transportation department and Volkert and Associates are named as defendants in the suit. The filing alleges they knew about the flaws and did not take appropriate steps to correct the problem or prevent accidents.
Officials with Gulf Coast Pre-Stress did not return calls Friday, and Volkert referred all questions about the suit to the transportation department. Brandon Rush, a spokesman for the department, said he could not comment on an ongoing lawsuit.
Officials are expected to raise the girder from Lake Pontchartrain next week, which should provide more evidence of what went wrong during the accident, Glover said.
The suit is based on an investigation by Glover’s firm. The transportation department expects to complete its investigation within a few weeks, Rush said.
It is unclear how many other girders may have had the same flaw, Glover said.
Engineers have said the accident occurred at the most vulnerable point in the bridge’s construction, when girders are subject to outside forces and are not held in place by the weight of the roadway. Glover agreed that there is no evidence the flaws in the girder would cause problems during normal use, but he said it is unclear how it might affect the bridge in conditions such as those seen during Hurricane Katrina, which heavily damaged the original twin spans.
The suit is seeking an unspecified amount of damages on behalf of Blackmon’s wife and daughter, who live in Alabama.
The suit does not name Boh Bros. Construction Co., the lead contractor on the project and Blackmon’s employer. Glover said the company and its employees were not responsible for the design of the girders and were following all proper safety guidelines and procedures as they worked on the bridge.