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12 Settle Lawsuits In Bridge Collapse

Aug 16, 2002 | Charlotte Observer
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A dozen people injured two years ago in the collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Lowe's Motor Speedway settled their civil lawsuits Thursday in Mecklenburg Superior Court.

They received an undisclosed amount of money from the defendants in the case, which included the speedway, its parent company, the contractor that designed the bridge's support beams and a New Jersey firm that made a chemical additive blamed for corroding steel cables inside the beams.

No one involved would disclose which defendant or defendants paid money, or how much. Since at least 61 plaintiffs filed lawsuits, that leaves suits on behalf of 49 victims still pending.

When the walkway over U.S. 29 fell on May 20, 2000, 107 people were injured.

James Merchant, his wife and two sons were on the bridge when it gave way. Their case was slated to be the first one to go to trial, starting Monday.

Merchant, a resident of the Raleigh-area town of Garner, declined to say how much he received, but said his family was satisfied.

"We're happy with the settlement. I'll leave it at that," he said. "I have nothing against the speedway or any of the guys down there. It's just an unfortunate thing that happened."

Merchant was hospitalized for seven weeks and has endured 15 surgeries to repair shattered facial bones, two broken femurs, damaged kneecaps, an injured left arm and a right foot severed so badly he almost lost it.

His wife broke her back in two places. His oldest son, then 18, broke his right ankle, while his youngest son, then 3, suffered a broken tailbone.

"It's been a long 27 months," he said. "I don't know that we'll ever get over some of the things we went through."

Martin Brackett, lead lawyer for a committee of attorneys representing the victims who have filed suit, said the terms were being kept secret to protect the families' privacy.

"We're hopeful the process we've begun will help lead to resolution of future cases," Brackett said.

David Allen, the lawyer representing the speedway, said his clients were also pleased.

"We're obviously glad the matter has been resolved," Allen said. "It's been a long process for the folks who were injured. As we've said all along, we didn't feel the speedway had any liability.

"But those folks are our fans, and we're concerned about them, so we're glad to see them get compensated."

The other defendants in the case were Tindall Corp., the Spartanburg construction company that designed and helped install the bridge's concrete support beams, and Anti-Hydro Inc. of New Jersey, which sold Tindall an additive used to speed the hardening of concrete filler.

Shortly after the bridge collapsed, investigators discovered that steel cables inside the support beams had corroded. Experts blamed the corrosion on high levels of calcium chloride in the grout near the center of the bridge.

Tindall said in court papers that its employees added the Anti-Hydro product to the grout inside the beams, but didn't know it contained calcium chloride.

Anti-Hydro said in court papers the product does contain calcium chloride, but that Anti-Hydro didn't know or approve of its use in the construction of the bridge.

Victims' lawyers also said the speedway should have ensured that the bridge was safe, but failed to do so.

No one admitted liability in the settlement.

"We're glad it's resolved," said Doug Ey, the attorney representing Anti-Hydro. "The lawyers involved worked very hard."

"Everyone's glad these cases are settled," added Reid Phillips, the attorney for Tindall.

Superior Court Judge Erwin Spainhour and lawyers for the remaining litigants will hold a hearing on the other cases in about a month.

The Merchants' lawyer, Lacy Presnell, said the family is happy to resolve the case without a lengthy trial.

"We just wish it could have been settled sooner," Merchant said. "It's been a long road to recovery."
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