Jacksonville, FL - The City of Jacksonville has settled a lawsuit over the partial collapse of Liberty Street in Downtown that happened in April 2012, almost three years prior to a larger roadway collapse that has led to the $31 million redesign and rebuild of Liberty Street and Coastline Drive along the River.
All parties involved have also given up their ability to pursue any legal claims relating to this in the future- despite the City previously saying they believed the larger collapse was a result of the first.
The City sued Complete Property Services, Inc. back in July 2014 as a result of the 2012 collapse. While the road is called Liberty Street, it’s actually considered a bridge because it’s built on pilings over the water.
The negligence complaint says there was a sign along the Liberty Street bridge structure saying the weight limit was three tons, but CPS used a 10.9 ton boom lift to do work on an adjoining property. The City maintains the weight of the boom lift caused some of the pilings supporting the bridge to collapse, forming a roughly 66’ x 18’ hole. They further stated in the complaint that it was CPS’ “legal duty” to ensure public property would not be damaged while operating the boom lift.
The City paid just over $48,000 to clear debris from the site of the collapse and then to fence around it, according to the complaint.
GALLERY: Both collapses on Liberty Street
CPS responded by disputing that they breached any legal duty. They argued the boom lift is not considered a motor vehicle, and therefore they did not violate Florida law cited by the City regarding its operation on bridge structures. CPS further denied that the weight of the boom lift caused the partial collapse or that any alleged negligence on their part caused the damage. Instead, CPS filed an affirmative defense saying the Liberty Street bridge structure had not been maintained and was considered “structurally deficient” by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The court battle dragged on for more than three years, until last month, when the case was dismissed.
The settlement agreement obtained by WOKV shows neither party is admitting liability, but CPS paid the City $98,000. Each party is responsible for the fees and costs they incurred during the litigation- the City’s tab for that was $49,296.50, according to the Office of General Counsel.
While the City says the $98,000 settlement doesn’t represent any specific costs or damages, it is just over the cost of the City’s legal fees and the initial cost to clear debris, making the case relating to that specific damage essentially a wash.
However, in the past, the City has asserted that this initial collapse contributed to the later- and much larger- collapse along Liberty Street at Coastline Drive in 2015. The two scenes are very close together.
During a conversation about a bill on bridge maintenance in early 2016, the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa told Council members that the Administration saw a connection.
“If you recall, the first collapse at Liberty Street was because a crane- an overloaded crane- was working on Liberty Street. That’s what made the first collapse, and we believe the follow-on collapse is a result of the first collapse. Not only did it open the bridge up to the atmosphere, but it weakened the rest of the length,” Mousa said at the time.
WOKV asked the City whether this is still their position, and we have been told they have no additional comment or information to provide. The Florida Department of Transportation- which performs bridge inspections- was unable to investigate the structure after the collapse because of safety concerns, so they cannot say with any certainty what caused it.
The settlement shows the City, CPS, and their affiliates release the right to pursue any further claims connected to the initial collapse. WOKV sought to confirm that meant there could be no claim in connection to the second collapse- and therefore there could be no effort to recoup the costs affiliated with the second collapse- and the City again said no additional comment or information was available.
The budget for the overall redesign and rebuild in that area stands at $31 million. Construction on Coastline Drive is currently slated to be completed in July and Liberty Street in December. The old courthouse parking lot deck is also being demolished as part of this rebuild.