Five lawsuits against Skanska USA have been filed by businesses affected by damage to the Pensacola Bay Bridge in Florida. The company was engaged in a $430m contract to demolish the old bridge and build a new one when its site was struck by a category II hurricane in September.
The lawsuits allege that the company "inadequately secured or relocated" work platforms as Hurricane Sally approached the Gulf Coast, resulting in collapse of the bridge, and "crippling, if not insurmountable, economic losses for local businesses".
Skanska USA said in a press statement that some barges broke from their moorings when the storm "unexpectedly and dramatically shifted east", creating conditions that meant it was impossible for workers to make hurricane-level preparations.
Hurricane Sally made landfall in the early hours of Wednesday, 16 September, bringing with it 169km/h winds.
The lawsuit alleges that Skanska "had advanced knowledge of an approaching hurricane but did not comply with its own hurricane preparedness plan", and that it "negligently left numerous work platforms unsecured or improperly positioned".
It adds that at least two platforms broke free during the hurricane and damaged "five spans of the new Pensacola Bay Bridge, rendering the bridge impassable". The filing accuses the contractor of "negligence, gross negligence, negligence per se, breach of contract, public nuisance and private nuisance".
Skanska says that equipment and barges were secured in accordance with the forecast at the time.
During the storm, 27 bridge barges were displaced. Skanska said it has now removed 22 of the 23 barges that ran aground, and three of the four barges that became lodged under the bridge.
Skanska does not yet have a timeline for the reopening of the 4,767m span, which runs between Gulf Breeze and Pensacola, but says it is working with Florida Department of Transportation and consulting engineers on devising one.
Sam Geisler, a partner at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, the company that is representing the plaintiffs, said: "We are honoured to have the opportunity and the responsibility of representing so many locals who have taken a direct hit not only from Hurricane Sally, but from Skanska.
"The Three Mile Bridge closure has been devastating to our community, and the effects are going to be felt for months to come."
Skanska has been contacted for comment.
The Pensacola Bay Bridge forms part of Highway 98. It was originally opened in 1931.
Images courtesy of the FDOT