- Adam Wickham
I was abroad on Friday, so am late in reporting that a jury has confirmed what we already knew: Everybody involved in the disastrous attempt to put a new deck on the Morrison Bridge screwed up.
The county, a contractor that re-fit the bridge with a new plastic deck, the companies that supplied that deck, and an engineering firm were all whacked with assignations of fault in the March 6 verdict. Most will be forced to split what jurors—after what must have been a painfully slow two-and-a-half weeks—determined was $5.6 millions in damages.
The county is crowing victory for the verdict, even though the jury found it was more complicit than three of five parties. "Good week for the county," spokesperson Mike Pullen said this morning. On Friday, County Chair Deborah Kafoury issued a statement saying the county's "very pleased."
"The county always strives to be a good steward of public funds and to hold people accountable when things go wrong," Kafoury wrote. The statement barely acknowledged that jury decided Multnomah County should shoulder roughly $1.2 million of the cost for the failed bridge—more than a fifth of the burden, in a case with five parties. As we've reported, the county knew parts of the deck had cracks, but installed them anyway. And it wasn't aware of heaps of evidence this same exact bridge decking had failed elsewhere.
What's more, that $1.2 million in damages are actually well past $1.6 million if you believe the county's contention that its actual costs for the failed project were more than $6 million, not the $5.6 million the jury assigned.
A breakdown of the remaining findings after the jump:
•ZellComp, the North Carolina company which designed the bridge deck, was hit the hardest, with 40 percent of damages—more than $2.25 million. There are rumors the company will appeal, though its attorney hasn't returned multiple messages. Here's a cross-section of the company's defective product.
•Hardesty & Hanover, an engineering firm tapped to draw up plans to fit the deck, was hit with 21 percent of damages, or about $1.18 million. That may change, though, if a settlement Multnomah County worked out with the company prior to trial goes forward instead. (The company wanted to exit the case completely before a jury was called, but could not due to technicalities.) The county has so-far refused to say how much the settlement is worth.
•Conway Construction, the outfit that won a bid to bolt the decking into place, got 17 percent of damages: $959,990.
The biggest surprise? The jury's ruling that a Virginia company called Strongwell, though negligent, was responsible for none of the bridge's costs. Strongwell manufactured the polymer surface that's coming rapidly apart on the bridge. As the Mercury's reported at length, the court case revealed scads of damning e-mails that suggested the company knew its product was questionable, but sought to hide that fact.
I was poolside, though, not sitting in trial. Clearly 12 jurors found reason to discount emails (which you should really look at if you haven't).
The Morrison is Portland's busiest non-highway bridge. It's also in the worst shape its been since the deck replacement ended in 2012. The county's had to close two lanes because of dramatic cracks that are taking place beneath the surface. Here's a video that was shown to jurors at trial: