- A federal judge ruled last week that Skanska was operating under maritime law when 27 of its 55 barges broke loose from its Pensacola Bay Bridge project in Florida during Hurricane Sally in August 2020, a win for the contractor that could significantly limit its liability in the case.
- U.S. District Court Judge Lacey Collier’s ruling keeps the case in federal court, which Skanska had wanted, meaning that litigation from nearly 1,000 claimants that could otherwise move forward in state court will need to wait, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
- But the judge deferred to rule on whether claimants who suffered economic losses due to the bridge’s closure for nine months, and the resulting impact on commuters, local businesses and government, had standing in the case. That will now be decided at trial.
Skanska declined to comment on Collier’s ruling when contacted by Construction Dive.
The Sweden-based contractor has aggressively sought to limit its liability for damage caused by the errant barges during the $430 million construction project. Skanska has argued that it should only be held liable for the value of the five barges which actually caused damage to the bridge — $1.43 million — resulting in its closure.
At question in the case now will be whether parties who suffered economic damages due to the bridge’s closure can seek relief from the contractor, or if only those who suffered physical damages from the barges themselves when they washed ashore, can sue.
In asking the court to limit its liability to the $1.43 million value of the barges, Skanska proposed the dollar amount be divided pro rata between all parties submitting valid claims within a certain time period to be determined by the court. With each filing, Skanska included a copy of a security bond equal to the value of each barge.
Sam Geisler, an attorney with Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, who is representing the claimants, told the News Journal that Collier’s ruling wasn’t what he hoped for, but that there was still hope due for a favorable future ruling on economic damages.
“That’s really important because if we win that trial, we get out of federal court and can proceed in state court where a lot of those cases are pending,” he told the newspaper.
Many local businesses claimed that the closure of the Pensacola Bay Bridge and the subsequent diversion of traffic to the nearby Garcon Point Bridge kept customers away from their businesses.
In October, the Florida Department of Transportation sent a letter to Skanska informing the company that it intended to seek reimbursement for lost toll revenue if the bridge's bondholders, which are owed at least $135 million, seek to recoup lost toll revenue from the state. But a state judge ruled that the bondholders cannot force the FDOT to make them whole as far as the tolls are concerned.
FDOT also said it would withhold $35,000 per day from Skanska USA Civil Southeast until traffic was fully restored on the bridge, which reopened in late May.