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Over the next 60 days, a team of 20 Minnesota law firms will file more than 100 negligence lawsuits in connection with the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people and injured 145.

They’re all doing it pro bono.

Minneapolis-based Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi is heading up the pro bono effort, and it recently paid more than $1 million to New York engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti — the same one used to scrutinize the World Trade Center collapse — to investigate the bridge collapse. Other law firms participating in the pro bono bridge project include Soucie & Bolt, a personal injury firm in Anoka, Minn.; Harper & Peterson, a civil plaintiffs’ firm in Woodbury, Minn.; and the Fluegal Law Office in Hastings, Minn. -Tresa Baldas,

The two companies the law firms plan to target for the suits are San Francisco’s URS Corp., the engineers who evaluated the bridge prior to its collapse, and Progressive Contractors, a St. Michael, Minnesota construction company which was resurfacing the bridge before it collapsed. Findings from Thorton Tomasetti suggest that the National Transportation Safety Board was wrong last fall in identifying a fractured gusset plate as the cause of the collapse; corroded roller bearings (which URS Corp. allegedly knew about but ignored) are now emerging as the true initiating event. The company’s investigation also suggests that Progressive’s piling of heavy construction materials (which weighed as much as a Boeing 747) on the bridge during its resurfacing played a role the collapse.

Meanwhile, victims of the bridge collapse recently collected compensation checks from the state, largely due to the pro bono efforts of the 20 law firms that united to help them.

According to Robins Kaplan, because the bridge was state property, damages were initially capped at $1 million for all victims to share. They ended up getting much more, however, due to several lawyers who pressured the legislature into passing a historic $38 million Bridge Fund bill. That allowed victims to receive up to $400,000 each, and provided for a supplemental $12.6 million fund for the worst injured. Compensation offers went out to the 179 victims last month. –

Both companies accused of negligence have denied responsibility for the accident.

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