Early on, for instance, one of the utility’s own witnesses, Dr. David W. Carrier, testified that he no longer supported the theory that excess pore pressure was to blame. Carrier had represented the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, the project’s permitting agency, during the reservoir’s design, construction and operation.

Also, before Carrier, TBW employee Amanda Rice, the utility’s project manager during design, twice testified under redirect examination that she “may have” witnessed improper construction, thereby giving credence to HDR’s central defense.

Moreover, TBW lawyers struggled to persuade the jury that data from piezometers installed in the reservoir after the cracking occurred actually indicated increased pore pressure. Instead, on this point, they were left to argue that the pore pressure was relieved when the cracks occurred, and that that was the reason the devices didn’t record increased pressure.

And while HDR wasn’t required to convince the jury of an alternative explanation of the cracking, it made a considerable attempt to do so. Dr. Les Bromwell, a geotechnical engineer—and former business partner of Carrier’s—used a stash of allegedly “secret photos” and an 8-ft-tall Gantt chart to lay out a compelling case that poor compaction was to blame.

How much the jury believed Bromwell is unknown, but TBW attorneys spent considerable time and effort attempting to debunk his methods and conclusions.

Tampa Bay Water had previously settled with the construction firms who built the reservoir. The utility first came to terms with construction manager, Construction Dynamics Group, for $6 million, and then with general contractor Barnard Construction, and its embankment subcontractor, McDonald Construction Corp., for $750,000.

Forging Ahead

Post-verdict, Seeber expressed no regrets for TBW’s earlier rejecting the mediator-offered settlement offer of $30 million and risking incurring millions of dollars in legal bills, should it lose in court. (TBW has reported $10.6 million in legal bills to date; it expects HDR, as prevailing party, to file for lawsuit-related expenses of between $13 million and $18 million.)

TBW’s motion seeking a new trial is the first step in filing an appeal. Timothy Connolly, executive vice president with HDR and the firm’s leader for the lawsuit, expressed frustration with TBW, and suggested it’s time for the utility to move on.

In a statement to ENR, Connolly said: “Since the time when TBW excluded HDR from helping investigate the issues, to rejecting our settlement offer, they have continued to pursue an aggressive strategy of litigation rather than cooperation. The quick decision by the jury should leave no doubt that the cracking is a result of poor construction and not a design issue.”

On April 16, after Tampa Bay Water announced it would seek a new trial, Connolly stated to ENR: “We recognize that it is not uncommon for those who lose jury trials to routinely suggest that they will appeal. We are very confident that the trial judge gave both sides a fair trial and that his rulings were correct. We see no basis for an appellate court reversing the jury’s verdict.”