Friday, April 13, 2012

Tampa Bay Water Bureaucrats Duck Blame For Adverse Verdict

After accepting short settlement dollars from the construction manager and contractor this week’s jury verdict ultimately determined were actually responsible for cracks in the walls at the 15.5 billion gallon Bill Young Resorvoir at Lithnia, Florida, and then rejecting a $30 million settlement offer from the design engineer in favor of taking their case to trial, Tampa Bay Water officials still refuse to accept responsibility for their own bad calls respecting construction of the project. TBW board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman is quoted as complaining that “Jurors couldn’t see that in the end that they’re going to have to pay for a mistake that they don’t see as a mistake.”

TBW’s board is apparently committed to spending $162 million on the renovation and expansion of the six year old retaining basin, in addition to the expense of $10.6 million in its own legal fees for the trial, plus the $13 million to $18 million in legal fees of HDR Engineering, exonerated by the jury verdict, which loser TBW is contractually required to pay. Accordingly, rejection of the $30 million HDR settlement offer will cost water ratepayers of TBW as much as an additional $1.20 per month. The fact that TBW board members thought $1.20 per month could bribe federal court jurors to influence their verdict in a month long trial is utterly astonishing.

Though TBW board members refuse to acknowledge it, the “mistake” in this legal proceeding was their own determination to settle for short money from one set of parties presumably at least partly responsible for the reservoir failure, in the form of improper soil placement during construction, and proceed to trial only against the designer, after rejecting the engineering firm’s reasonable settlement offer. Any lawyer experienced in the trial of construction disputes will tell clients that there are only two truths respecting juries: their verdicts are always unpredictable, but they usually do the right thing. TBW board members decided to take a crap shoot in this case, and have only themselves to blame when the dice came up snake eyes.

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