COLUMBIA — The family of Lt. Bruce Britt, the Columbia firefighter who died in the Feb. 22 collapse of a University Village walkway, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Monday against the UM System Board of Curators.
The lawsuit, submitted to the 13th Circuit Court of Boone County, alleges that the university was aware of dangerous conditions at the complex but that renovations never occurred because they were too expensive.
The lawsuit also alleges that the university had sufficient time to repair the building "to protect against the dangerous condition" and that Britt's death "was the direct and proximate result of (the university's) failure to correct the dangerous condition on its property."
An MU housing plan released in 2008 said University Village was "in poor condition" and "renovation is not a reasonable alternative." The report estimated costs of renovation to exceed $15 million.
Britt's family is requesting at least $25,000 in damages, the minimum amount in a wrongful-death suit, said Rick Barry, the plaintiff's attorney. Barry expects the amount, which includes the family's legal fees, to "significantly" increase during the case.
The suit's plaintiffs are Britt's wife, Leigh, and his daughter Stormy.
Barry has hired structural engineering experts to inspect Building 707, where the walkway collapsed under Britt. He said he is waiting for UM System's general counsel, who will hire separate experts, to set an inspection time.
Barry said it is important to schedule the inspection soon, before the building degrades further.
John Fougere, chief communications officer for the UM System, said in an email the UM System does not comment on pending or active litigation.
Britt was killed while responding to a call about a structural emergency in Building 707 at University Village. Britt was searching for trapped residents when part of the walkway collapsed beneath him. He was pronounced dead at University Hospital. He is the first Columbia firefighter to die in the line of duty since 1986.
After the collapse, MU hired structural engineering firm Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw Inc. to inspect all the facilities the university owns and leases. The firm found that three other occupied University Village buildings — 602, 604 and 709 — needed immediate repair. Wooden beams were installed beneath all University Village walkways to provide extra stability.
On March 12, the university announced University Village would close June 30 and be demolished shortly thereafter.
The complex was built in 1956 and houses graduate students, married students and students with children. A series of work orders obtained by the Missourian shows repairs were made to a section of Building 707's walkway as recently as July 2013.
No hearings have been scheduled at this time.