Skanska is attempting to get the federal courts to find it is immune from accountability under maritime law and cannot be held responsible for the financial damage its negligence inflicted on local businesses and people affected by the closure of the Pensacola Bay Bridge. In a new court filing, Levin Papantonio Rafferty, Aylstock Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, Beggs & Lane, and Zarzaur Law argue that maritime law does not apply to bridge builders like Skanska and that Skanska must be held to account under Florida law.
Pensacola, Fla., February 25, 2021 – Levin Papantonio Rafferty, Aylstock Witkin, Beggs & Lane and Zaurzar Law have jointly filed a motion to dismiss Skanska’s federal court filings attempting to immunize itself from responsibility to the businesses and people of the community. The Bridge has been shut down since September 16, 2020, when Hurricane Sally hit the Pensacola area. Skanska, a construction company hired by the Florida Dept. of Transportation to build the new bridge over Pensacola Bay, is facing more than one-hundred lawsuits because the company did not follow its own Hurricane Preparedness Plans and caused its equipment to destroy portions of the bridge. The closure of this vital community connector has caused crippling hardships on local business owners who rely on the steady flow of traffic between the two communities to support them.
“Hundreds of businesses and thousands of people in the Pensacola, Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach community are suffering because of Skanska’s negligence,” said Levin Papantonio Rafferty attorney Brian Barr. “Skanska views maritime law as a sword to preclude recovery for all businesses and individuals who were not physically impacted by one of Skanska’s barges but are suffering clearly foreseeable economic loss.”
The attorneys say that Skanska, as a construction company that was acting as a typical bridge builder, is subject to the laws of the State of Florida and not maritime law as their actions in the building of the Bridge have no relationship to traditional maritime activity. Just because Skanska bid upon and was awarded a contract to build a bridge over the water does not lead to the application of maritime law.
“Skanska is the fifth largest construction company in the world,” Sam Geisler of the Aylstock Witkin firm stated. “And yet they want the courts to believe that the company was actually engaged in maritime commerce in a twisted effort to avoid responsibility for the harms they caused area businesses and residents.”
“The ‘vessels’ in this case were barges being used as work platforms. The barges were not in navigation or under tow,” the motion states. “The rules of navigation do not need to be understood to assess Skanska’s liability. In this case, the builder of a bridge failed to secure its construction site. As a result, it allowed its equipment (fortuitously barges) to damage the project it was hired to build.”
The motion points out that Skanska failed to follow its own hurricane preparedness plan, submitted to the Florida Department of Transportation, and was even taken to task in an email by an FDOT engineer for not securing several barges that broke away and hit the bridge before Hurricane Sally even made landfall. Mr. Barr says the company had ample warning to move and secure all marine based equipment, like it had when previous storms threatened to come ashore, but instead the company chose not to take the time-consuming and expensive precautions in anticipation the storm wouldn’t hit the area.
“Skanska’s actions in failing to properly secure its worksite were clearly negligent,” the motion reads. ”While Skanska claims that it did all that it could to prepare for the approach of Hurricane Sally, the basic facts belie these contentions.”
As Mr. Geisler added, “We will not stand idly by as the fifth largest construction company in the world argues it was engaged in maritime commerce in an effort to avoid responsibility to this community.”