HOUSTON, January 21, 2010 – Following a lengthy, complex jury trial against the Port of Houston Authority, Gibbs & Bruns emerged with a nearly $20 million jury verdict for its client, Zachry Construction Corporation. The breach of contract lawsuit arose out of the Port’s last-minute rejection of a contractually approved construction method that Zachry intended to use to build the 2000-foot wharf facility at the Bayport terminal. The verdict comes over four years after the dispute first arose in 2005.
In June 2004, Zachry began construction on a 1660-foot wharf and targeted a partial completion date of February 2006 in order to receive specialized cargo-handling cranes from China. Once construction was well underway, Port officials realized they underestimated the size of the wharf required and determined it needed to be 332 feet longer than originally planned.
Zachry originally intended to construct the wharf under dry conditions by constructing a frozen soil wall around the facility. The frozen soil wall would act as a temporary coffer dam and allow Zachry to construct and excavate dirt at the wharf using conventional methods. Because it became necessary to expand the wharf in the middle of construction, Zachry proposed to divide the project in half using a frozen soil cutoff wall. The frozen cutoff wall would allow Zachry to achieve partial completion to allow the delivery of the specialized cargo cranes from China, while still allowing for construction on the remainder of the wharf (including the 332-foot extension) under dry conditions.
However, after accepting Zachry’s proposal to build the additional section, the Port subsequently rejected Zachry’s planned construction methodology. As a result, Zachry was precluded from implementing its plan to use a frozen soil wall to excavate the site under dry conditions and was forced to use a more traditional excavation technique to be ready for the ship arrival from China. The change in methodology caused Zachry substantial cost and time overruns. At trial, the Port denied it breached the contract and alleged that Zachry’s own inefficiencies caused Zachry to change its construction methodology.
Following a three-month trial before Harris County Civil District Judge Mike Engelhart and three days of deliberation, the jury returned with a resounding verdict for Zachry, awarding the company $18,602,697 in damages. In addition, the court previously granted Zachry judgment on a claim that the Port had wrongfully withheld over $1 million in payments due under the contract, which increased the total amount Zachry won in the lawsuit to nearly $20 million.
“We are very pleased with the result obtained for our client Zachry Construction Corporation,” said Gibbs & Bruns Founding Partner Robin Gibbs. “This was a complicated and protracted dispute, and I could not be more proud of our firm for obtaining the verdict our client so very much deserved.”
Prior to trial, Gibbs & Bruns successfully defeated several summary judgment motions filed by the Port seeking to dismiss the case in its entirety.
The Gibbs & Bruns trial team included Robin Gibbs, Sydney Ballesteros, Jennifer Horan Greer, and Mike Absmeier. Zachry was also represented by Brandon Allen of Reynolds, Frizzell, Black, Doyle, Allen & Oldham LLP.