Victims of 2015 Corona bridge collapse to share $38.5 million settlement – San Bernardino Sun

A construction worker walks toward a partially collapsed bridge on the 91 Freeway in Corona on Oct. 10, 2015. A $38.5 million settlement was agreed to in March 2022 with the nine workers who were injured in the accident the previous day. (Ali Tadayon, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

A $38.5 million settlement has been reached between the builders of a bridge over the 91 Freeway in Corona and nine workers injured when part of the structure collapsed in 2015.

A Riverside County Superior Court judge signed off on the deal on Wednesday, March 9, said Chris Aitken, the attorney for one of the workers, Buena Park resident James “Chip” Chaffee, who suffered a brain injury.

Chaffee, 56, said he remembers what he was doing five minutes before the accident but not the collapse itself. Chaffee will receive a little more than $5 million, Aitken said.

Chaffee said he can’t bend over or walk long distances without a cane. He also has difficulty controlling his emotions.

“I’d still love to be working,” Chaffee said in an interview. “You can have all that money back if you’d put me back to work, but that ain’t possible.”

The defendants were Parsons Corporation, Caltrans, Walsh Construction Group, Clark Construction Group, Sequoia Consultants, Southstar Engineering, Simkins Corporation, HNTB Corporation and one other whose identity was confidential. As part of the agreement, the defendants did not admit liability.

No one at Parsons, which Aitken said was the lead construction agency on the project, could be reached for comment.

Caltrans spokeswoman Terri Kasinga said, “Caltrans ultimately had little direct involvement in the litigation or settlement.”

Caltrans’ portion was covered by insurance, she said.

At about 10:45 p.m. on Oct. 9, 2015, wooden supports and jacks being used to lower the bridge over East Grand Boulevard gave way, causing a concrete slab to drop 16 inches.

The day after the collapse, workers punched through the vent holes of the bridge and released 12 to 25 tons of water from the bridge, engineering reports showed. It had rained recently, but an engineer said there had to be additional sources for that water.

James “Chip” Chaffee of Buena Park is shown in a hospital after being badly injured when a bridge partially collapsed in Corona in 2015. Nine workers were hurt and will share in a $38.5 million settlement announced in March 2022. (Courtesy of Chris Aitken)

Aitken said supervisors failed to inspect the bridge and determine its weight. The contractors used manual jacks and should have used computerized jacks that could have compensated for imbalances on one side or another.

“Those two factors contributed to a major construction disaster that damaged families forever,” Aitken said in an interview.

Chaffee had been a carpenter for 30 years, helping to build hundreds of bridges, and was working for Walsh Construction at the time of the collapse. He said he was hit on the head and was thrown 40 feet from the scaffolding. Some workers landed on piles of wood, Aitken said.

Chaffee was sedated for seven days and was gradually brought out of a coma.

His wife, Julie Chaffee, 56, said they are pleased that the depositions and court filings and negotiations are over.

“So many of them (the victims) went through so much more,” she said. “It might not be the best life, but at least they can leave all this drama behind them now.”

James Chaffee said he is simply trying to adapt.

“I actually just purchased a house in Arkansas and it is on a lake and I’m gonna get me another boat and I can just fish my years away,” he said.

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