Manatee County to receive over $1.4 million from engineering firm found negligent by a jury

MANATEE -- Manatee County will receive more than $1.4 million after a jury found an engineering firm that performed work on the Lake Manatee Dam liable for its design's failure.

After nine days of trial and nearly six hours of deliberations, the jury decided that URS Corp. was 65 percent liable for the damages the county had incurred when the firm's design failed on the first day of work.

In 2009, URS Corp was hired to design a cofferdam to allow necessary work to be completed at the Lake Manatee Dam. A cofferdam is a watertight structure that is built to allow water to be pumped out and to permit work on a dam or other structure to be completed in dry conditions.

Work began in December 2010 and immediately the cofferdam began to leak. As a result, the county ordered the cofferdam removed and

sued for damages, citing negligence.

"We are convinced to this day that the entire problem was the design of the cofferdam," county attorney Mitchell Palmer said.

The jury did not agree, however, and found that URS was only partially to blame. They found Johnson Brothers, the general contractor hired by the county to build the URS's designed cofferdam, was also to blame.

County officials had not named Johnson Brothers in the suit, however.

"Nevertheless, URS did point an accusatory finger at Johnson Brothers," Palmer said.

As a result of the jury proportioning the liability, the county will not receive the total of nearly $2.2 million they had determined was owed to the it.

The county's legal team currently does not have any intention to recommend to the commissioners that action be taken against Johnson Brothers, Palmer said.

The county was represented by a legal team that included deputy chief county attorney Jim Minnix as well as Robert Buesing and Gregg Hutt from Trenam Kemker law firm in Tampa.

"We think that, on the whole, it was a good result for the county," Palmer said.

In addition to the settled amount, the county also expects to recover $269,500 in prejudgment interest, he added.

Last spring, repairs began on the Lake Manatee Dam after county officials reported the structure was in an extremely distressed state as a result of erosion.

"There is no connection whatsoever between the issues," Palmer emphasized.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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