Shelby County and County Bridge Inspectors Fail to Properly Inspect and Maintain County Bridge
D.H. was a competitive bicyclist who was riding in preparation for a cross-country fundraising ride. In the spring of 2010, D.H. was riding across an old steel-grated deck bridge in Shelby County when he hit a hole in the bridge and flipped over the handlebars of his bike. The impact to the bridge decking caused severe injuries to his face, teeth, tongue, and elbow.
Other attorneys had investigated this case and turned it down due to Indiana contributory negligence laws. D.H. retained Stephenson and Rife, who immediately starting performing a detailed investigation into the background of the bridge. Through the investigation, they were able to learn that as early as 1998, the bridge inspection reports showed the bridge in question needed to be replaced within five years, or by 2003. Because of the poor condition of the bridge, inspectors recommended the county inspect the bridge every six months, rather than the statutory requirements of every two years. The county never authorized additional inspections. The county obtained $844,000 in funding for the replacement of the bridge in 2000, but the Historical Society and adjacent property owners wanted the bridge repaired rather than replaced.
Rather than battle the opponents head on, the county commissioners tabled the matter for months or years at a time, not making any decision on whether to repair the bridge or replace it.
A new bridge inspection company was hired by the county in 2006. Again, it recommended that the bridge be replaced no later than 2007, and that it be inspected twice a year. In 2008, the inspection company took several pictures of broken welds in the bridge and decking and said that the bridge had deteriorated, but did not recommend repairing the broken welds. The county obtained additional funding in 2008. No bridge inspection was done in 2009.
D.H. was not aware of any issues with the bridge. There were no warning signs for pedestrians or bicyclists. D.H. was bicycling across the bridge with his uncle when he hit a hole in the bridge, flipped over the handlebars, and was severely injured. Stephenson and Rife hired multiple experts who helped establish this crash could have been avoided if the inspectors and county had done their jobs. Shortly before trial, the case settled for $335,500.