Papantonio was referring to the Pensacola Bay Bridge, which was rendered unusable on September 15, 2020, when 27 barges broke loose during Hurricane Sally, with 100+-mph winds driving four of the barges into the concrete structure. The barges were transporting construction cranes, massive beams, and other heavy cargo being used by Swedish corporation Skanska, which had been contracted to work on the bridge.
According to Engineering News, the accident and subsequent closure of the bridge has prompted 70 lawsuits from Pensacola community property and business owners. Plaintiffs claim they have suffered economic losses as a result of the bridge’s being closed since the accident occurred.
Symbolic of a Much Bigger Problem
According to Papantonio, the catastrophe represents a much bigger problem than a single bridge in Pensacola.
“It’s a classic example of a corporation going into a local community, making promises to strengthen the community and to build their economy,” Papantonio said, “then turning around and taking shortcuts, ignoring safety precautions, then throwing their hands up in the air and saying, ‘Oops, sorry, this was just a cost of doing business.”
Cooke pointed out that among the locals paying the price for Skanska’s business is “America’s lawyer,” Mike Papantonio, of Levin Papantonio. “[Papantonio’s law] firm is warning local governments and others who greenlight construction projects about Skanska,” Cooke explained.
According to Sarah Papantonio, the Pensacola Bay Bridge continues to be impassable. “It hasn’t been passable for three months, and it won’t be passable for another six months,” she remarked. The resulting isolation has affected 60,000 people.
“The cost of doing business is that 60,000 people rely on this bridge to do business every day, to visit with family, to travel to businesses to fuel this economy,” Papantonio said. “[The bridge] is no longer viable to this city, and it’s having a tremendous impact on our economy.”
The fact that the Skanska accident happened in a Pensacola community does not geographically limit the story’s significance. Papantonio said this type of accident is not uncommon, and it happens nationwide. She wants to tell the story of how corporations are taking advantage of local communities and refusing to take accountability for the consequences.
Globalization Thugs Are Here
Understanding Skanska’s Liability for the Pensacola Bay Bridge
Many readers may wonder why Skanska should be held liable for losses resulting from the Pensacola Bay Bridge accident. If a hurricane set in motion the events that caused the barges to collide into the bridge, could this not be considered an act of God?
Papantonio vehemently refuted this idea, explaining that a hurricane is different from a tornado or earthquake, which happen suddenly and with little notice. Hurricanes, on the other hand, afford a community and businesses time—sometimes as long as a week—to prepare. The way Papantonio sees it, Skanska had the time, but not the financial motivation, to take the actions that could have averted the Pensacola disaster.
“Skanska is one of largest construction companies in the world,” she said. “This company has tremendous resources, top-notch facilities to track weather….and can see things even before us local folks are able to.”
Having been privy to the weather conditions brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, Skanska had a legal and moral duty to pursue hurricane preparedness plans, locking down their sites, and ensuring that their materials were secured, Papantonio explained.
Instead, the company ignored the safety and well-being of the Pensacola community, choosing to prioritize the health of its profits.
Getting to Know the Villain of This National Story
Skanska is a Fortune 500 company that has its hands in plenty of U.S. construction pots. The corporation worked on the MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Giants and the New York Jets. The company has also built its fair share of airports and hospitals.
According to Cooke, the company’s reputation leaves much to be desired. The company seems to leave in its wake a flurry of massive fines and accusations of bribery and negligence. Papantonio confirmed the host’s assessment of Skanska’s image, speaking of a long rap sheet that includes $20 million in fines by the U.S. Department of Justice for fraudulent labor practices.
Furthermore, Papantonio explained that the corporation has been banned from doing business in South America, as a result of a train of bribery scandals connected with the company. They have also been accused of racial harassment in the workforce and of failure to follow proper safety protocol when constructing an Orlando Highway. The alleged negligence caused the death of five employees.
Time to Speak Up
In the conference rooms where Skanska meets to bid on local community projects, corporate presenters could promise the moon. The problem is that the governors, businesses, and town fathers believe everything they hear. They want to believe that Skanska and other companies like it want to make the community better.
This is what needs to change, if you ask Papantonio.
“We have to be smart shoppers,” she told Cooke. Local communities’ grassroot movements can make a difference. She encouraged the community to “show up” and “speak out” at public hearings upon learning of a local project that will be bid out.
“When local communities like Pensacola begin to threaten the reputation of major corporations, they start to listen and accept responsibility,” she said.