Attorney says Skanska was negligent, cleared evidence off cell phones in bridge lawsuit

Northwest Florida

PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — More than a year has passed since Skanska construction barges knocked out sections of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, causing months of headaches for commuters and a strain on business owners profits.

Now attorneys are preparing for a civil trial.

Attorneys representing nearly 1,000 claimants in this lawsuit say Skanska was negligent in preparing for Hurricane Sally and intentionally wiped employees’ cellphone of data to destroy evidence.

“There’s so many acts of negligence and failures,” said Sam Geisler, a partner with Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz law firm.

In a court document sent to WKRG News 5, attorneys, representing business owners to homeowners and commuters in lawsuits against Skanska, allege the construction company was not prepared for Hurricane Sally.

“What the National Weather Service was showing, the alerts that the Coast Guard was putting out, (everyone) was saying it’s time,” Geisler said. “It’s time to get ready.”

Attorneys allege evidence shows Skanska’s 2020 hurricane plan was inadequate, and they didn’t follow the proper protocols. Documents allege Skanska waited too long to move the barges and didn’t secure them far enough away from the bridge in the churning Pensacola Bay.

The barges knocked out part of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, forcing commuters on a long detour away from businesses struggling during the pandemic.

“These barges were breaking free at at a time where the wind was at 16, 17 knots,” Geisler said. “That shows you how poorly these were situated.”

A judge on Friday ordered Skanska to pay claimants about $92,000 in legal fees after enough circumstantial evidence showed the company deleted cell phone data of key employees.

A judge ruled there was no direct evidence to prove this, Skanska points out in a statement.

“Although Skanska does not typically comment on matters in litigation, Skanska produced over two terabytes of information (approximately 150 million pages of documents) in responding to discovery and the court found no direct evidence of bad faith on Skanska’s part,” the statement reads. “The decision pertained solely to the inadvertent loss of data on five cell phones that were either lost or re-used after employees left the company.”

Geisler said he believes the company did in fact act in bad faith and intentionally deleted the data.

“That evidence is gone, and these were folks that were the most important boots on the ground in moving the barges away from the bridge before Hurricane Sally,” Geisler said. “Why Skanska would allow those to be destroyed — there is no reasonable innocent explanation for that.”

Skanska is seeking zero liability for the damage to the bridge. Geisler says his clients are seeking money to be “made whole” again.

“My clients. They just want to be made whole. That’s ultimately what they’re seeking,” he said. “It’s reasonable because they prepared their businesses for the hurricane. And Skanska, it’s undeniable the failure.”

The trial is expected to begin at federal court in Pensacola on Oct 18.

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