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Firm Sues Over Bridge Collapse Access

Author / Coordinator: Steve Karnowski
Associated Press
October 2007

MINNEAPOLIS - A law firm filed a freedom of information lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Transportation on Thursday, seeking access to documents from an engineering firm the state hired to study the disaster.

Attorney Jim Schwebel, whose firm Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben represents some of those injured in the Aug. 1 collapse and the families of some of those killed, said experts working on behalf of the victims have had only limited access to crucial information. He said the engineering firm, Wiss, Janney Elstner Associates Inc., "has been allowed unfettered access to the site virtually from the beginning."

The lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County District Court, cites the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act in seeking access to all records and documents the department of transportation possesses related to the bridge collapse, including documents generated by the engineering firm. It says the department failed to respond to two formal written requests for the information filed last month.

Department of transportation spokeswoman Lucy Kender declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said the department has received "an extraordinary number" of similar requests since the bridge collapse and is trying to respond to them.

It's the second time the law firm has sued to gain greater access to information on the collapse. A federal judge in mid-August rejected its request to be allowed onto the disaster site. At the time, authorities were still trying to recover victims' bodies from the Mississippi River.

The Aug. 1 collapse killed 13 people and injured about 100 others. Schwebel said his firm — Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben — represents "several" families who lost loves ones and "many" people who suffered injuries. He declined to give clients' names.