By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A jury found in favor of a Havre company in a lawsuit stemming from delays to the completion of the upgrade of the Havre water treatment plant.
The jury returned a verdict about 9 p.m. Tuesday, after a seven-day trial, giving no award to Williams Bros. Construction, which has an office in Billings, and awarding $44,470.50 to Havre Ready-Mix. It deliberated about 2 hours.
"We're very pleased," said Jack Lewis, the attorney for Ready-Mix.
He said that, just as he told the jury, Ready-Mix believes Williams Bros. never should have filed the suit.
John Williams, president of Williams Bros., and Rich Campbell, Williams Bros. attorney, could not be reached for comment.
The jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Ready-Mix on the first count, which said that that company was liable for some losses Williams Bros. suffered while upgrading the water treatment plant.
On the second count, that Williams Bros. owed Ready-Mix for outstanding bills for concrete, the jury found in favor of Ready-Mix 10-2 and awarded it $24,784.95.
In a civil suit, eight members of a 12-member jury must agree on a verdict in each count.
On the third count, that Williams Bros. owed Ready-Mix for testing done on concrete it supplied, the jury found in favor of Ready-Mix 10-2 and awarded it $19,685.55.
Williams Bros. filed the lawsuit against Ready-Mix in April 2001, saying some of the project's delays were caused by Ready-Mix not supplying concrete that met the project's specifications.
The water treatment plant project was completed in November 2002, missing a one-year extension of the original deadline for completion by almost a month.
Ready-Mix filed a countersuit in July 2001, saying Williams Bros. had failed to pay for all of the concrete it supplied and failed to pay for testing done to the concrete. The concrete Ready-Mix supplied had met the original requirements, it said. The specifications cited in Williams' Bros. lawsuit materially altered the original bid quotation, the countersuit said.
Rich Campbell, attorney for Williams Bros., said during his opening statement, that the company lost $1.2 million on the project. It is not looking for Ready-Mix to pay for all of that loss, only what it is responsible for, he said.
"We're not asking to be compensated for problems caused by ourselves, only for problems caused by the defendant," he said.
Jack Lewis, attorney for Ready-Mix, said in his opening statement that the concrete Ready-Mix supplied met the original specifications given to Ready-Mix, and later testing showed it met the engineer's requirements for the project.
Williams Bros. underbid the project and is trying to offset its losses from whomever it can, he said.
Lewis said in his closing arguments that the delays were caused by problems Williams Bros. had, including difficulty keeping the groundwater level low enough at the project site to do the work, and problems in organization, management and finding qualified workers.The issue is accountability, Campbell said in his closing arguments. Ready-Mix agreed to supply concrete for the project, but refused to meet specifications required by Carollo Engineers of Boise, Idaho, the engineers for the project.
He said the delays caused by Ready-Mix cost Williams Bros. more than $590,000.
Campbell said the evidence showed the number of days lost because the concrete wasn't ready. The schedule of work required that the concrete be ready on time, and if it wasn't, other work couldn't be done, he said.
Ready-Mix's defense was just an attempt to confuse the issue, he said.
"They wanted to distract your attention away from this," Campbell said.
Lewis said the original request for a quote on the price of concrete for the project, which was used when Williams Bros. made its bid to Havre, did not include those specifications.
Ready-Mix quoted its price on March 14, 2000. Williams Bros. made its bid on the project on March 15. The first time Ready-Mix was told what all of the specifications were was on May 30, 2000, Lewis said. The company informed Williams Bros. on June 2 that it might have difficulty supplying concrete to those specifications, he added.
Campbell said concrete has to meet specifications for any public works construction projects. The first purchase order sent to Ready-Mix on April 10, 2000, said the concrete had to meet certain specifications and the engineer's approval, he said.
Ready-Mix not knowing what the specifications would require is their problem, not Williams Bros.', he added.
"Our ignorance should be our savior, that's what they're going to tell you," he said before Lewis' closing arguments. "What this is about is being accountable for your actions. They were obligated to supply concrete pursuant to specifications. They knew that."
Lewis said the specifications were not clearly stated on the purchase order, just that project specifications had to be met and engineer's approval had to be given on the concrete.
The test the engineer required is very rare on Montana projects, he said. The Great Falls company that usually tests concrete supplied by Havre Ready-Mix couldn't even do the test, measuring shrinkage when the concrete dries, and it had to be sent out of state, he said.
He said in his opening arguments that tests like the shrinkage test in question are the responsibility of the contractor, not the supplier. Ready-Mix should not have been held responsible for the cost of the tests, he said.
In his closing arguments, Lewis said the concrete Ready-Mix supplied barely missed the specifications in the original test, and later tests showed that it did meet the specifications.
He said Carollo Engineers did conditionally approve the concrete, and that when Williams Bros. called for concrete, Ready-Mix supplied it.
"There was never a time they were ready for concrete that it wasn't supplied," he said.
The contract between the city of Havre and Williams Bros. called for the upgrade to be completed on Oct. 31, 2001. After Williams Bros. missed that deadline, the contract was amended on Nov. 27, 2001, giving Williams Bros. until Oct. 31, 2002 to complete the project.
The work was not completed until November 25, 2002, the city said at the time.
The city considered suing Williams Bros. because of the delays, but decided against it. It paid the construction company an additional $200,000 for work it did past the original deadline.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said at the time that it would have cost $350,000 to sue Williams Bros., with no guarantee the city would win.