University of Missouri: a Tragic Lack of Leadership

On Saturday, February 22, Bruce Britt, a 23-year veteran firefighter in Columbia, Missouri, was killed while trying to help students get out of an apartment complex after a second floor walkway had collapsed. Firefighters responded to a call reporting a structural collapse at University Village Apartments early Saturday morning. Britt was on the partially collapsed walkway when it gave way, entrapping him in the rubble. He was rushed to University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Some students trapped in their second floor apartments had to climb out of windows and down ladders to evacuate safely. No one else was hurt in the collapse.

Misstatements Compound a Legacy of Inaction

University Village Apartments, an on-campus village complex, houses students with children, married students, single graduate students as well as students over 21. The complex, run by the University of Missouri, has long been the source of complaints, including reports of leaky windows, cracked ceilings and chipped paint. University Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said that structural engineers had thoroughly examined all residential housing over the weekend and that only minor problems had been found. University personnel were adding structural supports to every other building in the apartment complex.

Chancellor Loftin said that all buildings on campus would be inspected for their structural integrity by an outside company, commencing Monday morning, and added that all University-owned buildings are inspected on a regular basis. He said that the collapsed building had last undergone an inspection sometime in the last two years but couldn’t pinpoint a date.

By late Monday afternoon, the inspection process had still not begun. University spokesperson, Christian Basi, said that the University was still trying to figure out the best way to proceed. As of this morning, February 25, University officials admit that they cannot find the inspection reports and are unable to determine when the apartment building was last inspected.

Hard to Believe

What we have at the University of Columbia in the wake of this tragedy is a classic case of LEADERSHIP FAILURE. Let’s review the facts. Students (with children, no less) have been complaining of maintenance problems at the apartment complex for years. A firefighter is killed Saturday morning when a walkway collapses at one of the apartment buildings. The University Chancellor issues a public statement assuring the public that all university buildings will be inspected for safety immediately, commencing Monday morning. He adds that all University-owned buildings, including those in the University Village Complex, undergo inspection on a regular basis and that the collapsed building was inspected within the past two years. He can’t say exactly when. When Monday afternoon rolls around, a University spokesperson says that officials are still trying to decide the best way to proceed with inspections. This morning, we learn that the University can’t find the inspection reports and is unable to determine when the apartment building was last inspected.

The University of Missouri has not only abdicated its responsibility for assuring the safety and well-being of its students, faculty and staff, but has shown an egregious lack of integrity in representing its safety inspection process. To not have jumped into the inspection process at the break of dawn Monday morning—if only for the sake of upholding a “let’s take charge of this serious problem” public image—boggles the mind. As taxpayers supporting the University of Missouri, we deserve better than this.

Consult with a Top Personal Injury Lawyer

The death of Columbia fireman Bruce Britt is tragic and all the more heartbreaking given that the circumstances leading to his fall could have been prevented. If you know someone who has been hurt or killed due to the negligence of another—including a large institution—choose a top trial lawyer with a proven record of success. We will fight aggressively to make sure that the negligent party takes responsibility, and that you get the justice and compensation you deserve.  Call us at 314-409-7060 or 855-40-CRASH (toll free).

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Reach out to Chris Dixon for personal injury, workers compensation, product liability, and other legal services for experienced, reliable counsel and representation in St. Louis.

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