Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post stated that the Tampa Bay Times had not contacted HDR for their reaction to the verdict. That is incorrect. The Times did indeed report the reaction of HDR CEO George Little, where he stated that HDR was "pleased the jury based its decision on the facts and found in our favor." I regret the error.
By now, ENR readers who have read our wrapup story of the trial verdict, and viewed our exclusive slideshow offering a looking inside HDR's case, know more about the trial of Tampa Bay Water v. HDR Engineering than any other readers anywhere.
I can say that confidently for this simple reason: ENR was the only media group that provided any coverage of the trial beyond just the opening and closing arguments. Think about that for a second. A month-long trial involving cracks at a major public infrastructure facility, with more than $100 million on the line. A facility that the local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, has written about extensively. A case where the public owner rejected—after first approving—a $30-million settlement offer. And only ENR showed up to document the courtroom showdown?
Well, it's true.
Now, after a jury took just four hours to hand Tampa Bay Water and their lawyers their proverbial hat, the utility, its lawyers and board members are feigning bewilderment and even shock.
At a press conference held the evening of the verdict, TBW's general manager, Gerald Seeber, and lead attorney Richard Harrison echoed each other as they responded to reporter's questions: We have no idea what the jury was thinking, was the approximate response. Of course, it is hard to tell what a jury discussed specifically. It's the nature of the system, as Harrison correctly noted. But anyone who was actually at court for witness testimony—again, among the media, only ENR could say it was—it was not too hard to discern what the jury must've thought. They believed HDR at least as much as they did TBW. (By law, TBW had to prove that the "greater weight" of evidence proved their case.)
And a day later, the Tampa Bay Times reported the shocked reaction of a few of the utility's board members, with the headline, "Jury Verdict Leaves Tampa Bay Water Officials Stunned and Uncertain."
One commissioner, Charlie Miranda, called it a "tragedy for the entire area." And one after another stated that they were told they had a good and strong case, and that HDR should be held responsible.
I was at the courtroom on about eight to 10 days. It was pretty boring at times, actually. But important information was always around the corner, and when it popped up, the trial became very interesting. Not once did I see a TBW commissioner attend to see the case play out. And others who were at trial every day stated that no commissioner ever showed up.
Again, more than $100 million was at stake for the utility.
While I was at the courthouse waiting for the verdict, there was a palpable sense that this might not take too long. Sure, a jury—and this one was extremely poker-faced—could decide anything. But the words of HDR lead attorney Wayne Mason's closing remarks kept recurring to me: Jurors, even though this has been a long trial, you don't need to take a lot of time to decide this case.
For anyone who had attended the trial, and had seen the cases that both sides had made, the possibility of a verdict in favor of HDR had to be considered plausible.
As ENR exclusively reported, one of TBW's own witnesses had disavowed the theory of cracking that the utility was arguing for at trial. Another, a TBW employee, testified that she "may have" witnessed improper construction, HDR's central defense. And HDR's expert witness had testified and given video representation of an equally convincing counter-theory of the cracking. Finally, TBW's own attorney, Harrison, had given the jury all it needed to come back with $0 for the utility when he repeatedly told them, "Tampa Bay Water doesn't want one more nickel than we're entitled to."
So, given all of that, when the jury came back with just such a decision, it really wasn't shocking—though I'm sure the Tampa Bay Water officials and witnesses felt shocked they had lost.
Now, the TBW board has backed the request of Seeber and attorney Harrison to seek a new trial. All parties seem to be espousing for public consumption the thought that they were wronged.
For anyone who attended the trial—or even read ENR's coverage—such talk seems, well, bewildering. I'm not a legal scholar, but it seemed like a fair trial with an exhasutive amount of information. And it definitely seemed that HDR made a strong case at court. By logical extension, the jury's verdict would seem justified then, right?
What do you think? Is Tampa Bay Water justified in moving forward with an appeal? Or should they cut their losses and accept the jury's verdict? Please share your thoughts!