On November 9, 2015, Division One of the Court of Appeals affirmed a 2012 King County trial court judgment that joint-venture tunneling contractor Vinci Construction Grands Projets/Parsons RCI/Frontier-Kemper (VPFK) was liable to King County for $144 million in damages and attorney fees.
The case arose from the Brightwater project, a wastewater treatment plant north of Woodinville with a tunnel system that conveys wastewater to the plant and treated water to a marine outfall in Puget Sound. VPFK was awarded a $212 million contract to build two segments of the 13-mile tunnel system. Unfortunately, VPFK’s two tunnel-boring machines broke down several hundred feet beneath Lake Forest Park and Bothell. The machines required extensive repairs that threatened to delay the completion of the overall project.
VPFK repaired one machine and completed one tunnel segment, but King County did not accept the lengthy delay and additional cost proposed for the repair of the second machine. King County hired Jay Dee Coluccio to complete the remaining tunnel segment between Shoreline and Lake Forest Park. The Brightwater project began full operation in late 2012.
King County sued VPFK and its sureties for approximately $156 million, based on its costs arising from project delays and design modifications. VPFK counterclaimed for approximately $70 million, arguing that its delays were excused by differing site conditions and defective project design. King County acknowledged some of VPFK’s claims totaling about $4.7 million.
After a nearly three-month trial, the jury awarded $156 million in damages to King County, offset by $26 million to VPFK for its counterclaims. The court awarded King County its attorney/expert fees in the approximate amount of $14 million, for a net judgment of $144 million.
The trial and appeal involved a number of interesting issues, two of which are summarized here.