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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Plan could give bridge survivors a tough choice to make

Legislators are considering a new proposal to compensate survivors of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, but discussion of the plan seems to point out the bind the disaster victims are in when it comes to recovery option.

Under the proposal, survivors would be paid out of a fund that would limit awards to no more than $400,000 per person. The putative purpose of the effort would be to pay victims for losses not covered by insurance or other sources, but in some cases, survivors could be worse off accepting the payment.

For one thing, federal law allows insurance companies to recoup their costs in many cases like these, which means part of whatever is paid out could get skimmed off the top by insurers before the intended recipient sees a nickel.

Also, while survivors could still sue private companies under the compensation plan, anyone who accepts money from a fund would sacrifice their right to sue the state.

Even if victims forewent a compensation offer, Minnesota law limits the state's liability to $300,000 per person and $1 million total for everyone who sues over a particular incident.

The state has already received notice of potential legal claims from almost 80 injured bridge victims and their family members. Families of six of those killed also had outlined plans to sue the state for compensation.

Even if most of those suits never ended up getting filed, the eventual terms of the new compensation proposal (one of two being discussed) should be interesting.

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