When the Skagit River Bridge Collapsed
It was early evening on a sunny May day in Washington.
A young man was driving his Subaru to hockey practice. A couple in a pickup truck was headed out on a camping trip. A pilot car driver was talking to her husband on the phone.
Then, a semi truck’s oversize load struck the Skagit River Bridge on I-5.
The bridge suddenly broke apart. The Subaru and the truck plunged into the river below.
It was the stuff of nightmares.
Miraculously, everyone on the bridge survived. But all sustained physical and emotional injuries.
How a trucking company’s failures led to a bridge collapse
The truck that struck the Skagit River bridge that day was a 2010 Kenworth Truck Tractor, carrying an oversize load being transported by Mullen Trucking.
The truck’s cargo collided with the bridge portal, and then struck several sway braces on the bridge’s overhead through-truss structure.
There were multiple impacts, which caused significant damage to the loadbearing pieces of the bridge. The damage resulted in the collapse of the north bridge span.
How did this happen?
In most trucking crash cases, plaintiff’s attorneys will look at the truck driver as the likely cause of the crash.
Based on the evidence in this case, the trucker seemed qualified and experienced.
But an oversize load colliding with a bridge isn’t an “accident.” It is a collision born of negligence, rooted in the failure of any meaningful preparation.
The trucking company failed to prepare and plan the truck’s route.
In preparing a case against Mullen Trucking, I developed several keys to determining a proper and safe route of travel for an oversize load:
- Identify the hazards that the truck could encounter: road size, bridges, intersections, overpasses, etc.;
- Assess the hazards that the truck could encounter; and,
- Evaluate how each of the hazards can be safely addressed.
If Mullen Trucking Company had properly prepared and checked the route, they would have found that a 15’11” load could not safely cross the 14’5” right lane of the Skagit River Bridge.
The Skagit River Bridge wouldn’t have fallen into the river.
A police officer wouldn’t have died while directing traffic around the closure.
A small community in Washington wouldn’t have been cut off from I-5 for months.
And a young man in a Subaru wouldn’t have been dropped into a nightmare.
Images of Skagit River Bridge collapse: Washington State Police Department
Original Skagit River Bridge images: By Denver Gingerich (Ossguy) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ossguy/8831881488/in/set-72157633693673124, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26340278