In June 1970, a bridge under construction on Interstate Route 880 near Sacramento, California, failed when a high-strength steel member snapped during a deck pour. The fracture was initiated by a small welding crack which escaped state inspection. The unusual, brittle nature of the steel allowed this crack to propagate at a rapid rate leading to failure during construction. All the heavy-gage, high-strength steel supplied by this manufacturer on this project and on another highway project was found to be brittle. The state and its contractors agreed to share the repair costs and ultimately joined together in a joint action against supplier. The action was for product liability, implied and express warranty, implied warranty of merchantability, negligent manufacture, and punitive damages founded primarily upon questionable sales techniques resulting in completion through lower quality to justify a lower price. The State of California and its contractors devoted over 3 years to trial preparation and discovery. Toughness was considered the key quality. As a result of extensive testing, the plaintiffs were able to demonstrate that the steel lacked other important qualities essential to bridge construction but seldom specified. Product liability does not require that a mistake in manufacture be established. Discovery, however, provided the State of California and its contractors with evidence that any of several factors could have caused the steel to be defective. The action was successfully settled prior to trial for #2,75,000.00. However, one must question whether the conditions which permitted this to happen in the first place, have been adequately considered. Transportation and highway officials should take a serious look at other steel bridge failures.

  • Corporate Authors:

    Transportation Research Board

    A4005: Committee on Contract Law
    Washington, DC  United States  20418
  • Authors:
    • Finch, O F
    • Graebe, F
  • Publication Date: 1977-7

Media Info

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Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 00389117
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS, TRB
  • Created Date: Nov 30 1984 12:00AM