Wisconsin City Settles Suit With Bridge Owner Over Damage Caused By Fire Truck

A lawsuit filed by the owner of a historic bridge against the City of Burlington, Wisconsin and a firefighter has been settled. Roger Bieneman filed suit in 2021 to recoup the costs of repairing the metal truss bridge after Burlington firefighter Justin T. Benko drove a 40,000 pound engine across it while responding to an airplane crash.

The incident occurred on May 15, 2020. As alleged in the complaint:

  • A private road, with a historic truss bridge over Echo Lake (“Bieneman Bridge”), is located on the Bieneman Farm.
  • On May 15, 2020, at 6:15 p.m., an airplane crashed just north of the Bieneman Farm.
  • The City dispatched emergency responders to the crash site.
  • Benko drove CBFD fire engine number E925 (“Engine E925”) to the crash site.
  • Upon information and belief, at all times relevant to this Complaint, Engine E925 was owned by the City.
  • Upon information and belief, Engine E925 weighed in excess of 40,000 pounds.
  • Benko drove Engine E925 over the Bieneman Bridge to the crash site.
  • The Bieneman Bridge was unable to support the weight of Engine E925, and the weight of Engine E925 caused severe structural damage to Bieneman Bridge, including the catastrophic failure of a large portion of the wooden decking.
  • Benko was negligent in the operation of Engine E925 at the time and place described herein.
  • Benko knew, or should have known, that the Bieneman Bridge could not support the weight of Engine E925.
  • Benko breached his duty of care when he drove Engine E925 over Bieneman Bridge, despite the availability of alternative access to the crash site and warnings and other signs that the Bieneman Bridge could not support Engine E925.

In 2021, Bieneman filed suit in Racine County Circuit Court seeking to recoup the $100,000 it cost to repair the bridge. On the eve of the trial starting, the parties agreed to settle the case for $35,000. The settlement left Bieneman bitter, claiming it did not even cover the costs of his attorneys fees, but he needed to end the case due to high legal costs. The Journal Times quoted him as saying:

  • We got railroaded.
  • You work hard. You save your money, and they come and take it away from you.

More on the story.

Here is a copy of the original complaint

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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