Minnesota Inks Deal With Bridge Victims

Sections of the collapsed interstate 35W bridge with cars waiting to be cleared off, are seen in Minneapolis, Minn., Saturday, Aug. 11, 2007. Overnight thunderstorms halted diving at the bridge collapse site, slowing the attempt to find five people still missing in the river. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

State lawmakers said Friday they reached a $38 million agreement to compensate victims of the Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people and injured 145 others.

Rep. Ryan Winkler and Sen. Ron Latz told The Associated Press that a House and Senate conference committee agreed to the deal overnight. State lawmakers expected to approve the compromise Monday and send it to the governor, who supports it.

"It provides needed relief and support for victims and family members directly impacted by the I-35W bridge tragedy," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said.

Chris Messerly, an attorney for many victims of the Aug. 1 collapse, said the plan addresses a key sticking point in committee negotiations - whether to recognize the state's liability limit by capping awards to individual victims.

Messerly said the deal would allow victims to get up to $400,000 each - and there's a supplemental $12.6 million fund for the worst injured.

"For many people, this will be closure for them and that is so critically important," Messerly said.

The bridge buckled and collapsed into the Mississippi River during the evening rush hour, sending cars and construction equipment into the water and leaving a yellow school bus and other vehicles clinging precariously to tilting pavement. It took divers almost three weeks to recover all the bodies.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the collapse. Officials have focused on a design flaw involving beam-connecting steel plates and the weight of construction materials at vulnerable points in the bridge. Victim lawsuits are on hold until a final determination is made.

"It's nine months after the bridge collapse," Winkler said. "The Legislature has finally acted and done something for these people to feel like they're not being forgotten."
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