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November 2013

Gordon & Rees’s John Condrey Wins Defense Verdict in Suit Involving Jail Design

On Nov. 22, Gordon & Rees partner John Condrey, with the assistance of the associates and paralegals of the Phoenix office, won a complete defense verdict on behalf of his architect client and won all but one of dozens of claims asserted against his engineer client that provided the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical design for a $72 million jail facility in Mohave County, Ariz.  The three-week bench trial in the U.S. District Court consisted of 117 individual claims by the design-builder against the design team.  According to the trial judge, it was the longest civil trial he has presided over in his nine years on the federal bench.

The plaintiff claimed that change orders occurring after issuance of the permit set of plans were caused by the negligence of the design professionals, and that the amount of the change orders constituted the damage suffered by the plaintiff.  John argued at trial that errors or omissions in a fast-track design/build project do not, without more, constitute violations of the applicable standard of care, and that changes to the plans, including corrections during construction, are consistent with the normal course of such projects.  He also argued that there was no relationship between the plaintiff’s claim of additional costs and the evidence offered consisting of subcontractor change orders, because the change orders did not increase the obligation the plaintiff undertook to the owner in its fixed-price contract and did not show that the cost to provide the turnkey jail facility was more than it would have been if the claimed plan deficiencies had not existed.  The court adopted the defense arguments completely. 

There were significant attempts to settle the case prior to trial, given the extraordinary complexity of trying so many individual claims, which aggregated over $3 million.  The plaintiff rejected offers in excess of $600,000, and stood firm on its demand in the $2 million range. John’s clients served offers of judgment on the plaintiff, which were not accepted.  Because the final judgment was not more favorable than the offers, the defendants are entitled to recover their costs.  Additionally, the architect’s contract contained a prevailing party attorney’s fees provision, entitling it to seek attorney’s fees.

All of the associates, paralegals and staff in Gordon & Rees’s Phoenix office worked as a team and provided invaluable assistance during trial to help secure this excellent result.

John L. Condrey