Washington Supreme Court upholds claim against trucking companies for Skagit Bridge strike

November 1, 2019

Land Line Staff

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A divided Washington State Supreme Court ruling finds trucking companies on the hook to pay for damages that led to the 2013 collapse of the Skagit River Bridge on Interstate 5.

In a 5-4 ruling, the high court found that a series of state laws governing load sizes protect the state from liability claims when an oversize vehicle collides with a highway structure.

The Washington State Department of Transportation filed a $17 million lawsuit in 2015 against the truck driver, his carrier, a pilot car operator and others in an attempt to recoup costs associated with replacing the bridge. The trucking companies countersued, arguing the state should pay some of the share due to the fact that WSDOT issued the permit for the oversized load, and for operating a “functionally obsolete” bridge over the Skagit River. The trucking companies were arguing that the state bore some responsibility for the damages.

According to testimony on file with the National Transportation Safety Board, trucker William Scott was hauling an over-dimensional load for Canadian carrier Mullen Trucking and trailing a pilot car as he approached the Skagit River Bridge

Just before he crossed the bridge, Scott was overtaken on his left by another truck attempting to pass. The attempted pass prevented Scott from positioning the load on the bridge to allow sufficient overhead clearance. The load struck overhead bridge supports, and seconds later a section of the bridge collapsed into the river below. While the trucks made it across, two trailing passenger vehicles fell to the river below. The occupants were rescued and not seriously injured.

The NTSB investigation concluded that a number of deficiencies and failures contributed to the collapse, including that the bridge was brittle and had been struck numerous times in the past by trucks.

Skagit Bridge collapse, © kdingo 2013, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skagit_River_Bridge_collapse_2013-05-26.jpg
In May 2013, an oversized load struck overhead bridge supports, and seconds later a section of the I-5 Skagit River Bridge collapsed into the river below. (© kdingo 2013, Creative Commons 2.0 license)

Here is a 2013 AP video of the collapsed Skagit River Bridge.

Here is security camera video from 2013 of a semitrailer striking the Skagit Valley Bridge before a section of the bridge collapsed.

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