Investigations following the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis will tell us how it occurred and whether anyone bears responsibility for the failure.
In Tennessee, it would be very difficult for a case to be brought the most obvious potential defendants. Our state and local governments have a damage cap that make it impossible to economically pursue claims after such a disaster. Our "architects, engineers and contractors immunity act" make it impossible for them to be held responsible more than four years (ok, four plus one years) after construction (absent a showing of fraud). Our products liability act gives manufacturers of any component parts a get-out-of-jail-free after ten years.
Of course, perhaps contractor(s) working on the bridge at the time may be found to have some fault and perhaps a private firm did an inspection and did not perform it carefully – the facts will trickle out over the next few days. But in Tennessee the ability of these potential defendants to assert fault against the potential defendants mentioned above and have that fault reduce the recovery of the plaintiff (the magic of several liability and allowing fault to be placed on immune non-parties) make these cases a challenge, too.
Could this happen in Tennessee? Check out this information from today’s Tennessean: "Of the 19,519 public bridges in Tennessee, 1,202 are considered "structurally deficient" and 2,938 are considered "functionally obsolete," by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. That’s about 22 percent of all the bridges in the state."
Here is a list of bridges by county that describes the state of repair of each. In my county, Williamson, one of structurally deficient bridges has a traffic county of over 62,000 vehicles a day. I drive over that bridge a couple times a month. Tell me: how do I protect myself against this risk?
UPDATE: I just heard a report that the cost of repairing all of the structurally deficient bridges in the USA would be $65B. That is equivalent to six – nine months of the cost of the war in Iraq.