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Jury Rejects Plaintiffs’ $3.5 Million Demand in Complex Inverse Condemnation Trial

November 9, 2017

WSHB Successfully Argues that Landfill Operations Did Not Significantly Affect Plaintiffs’ Use of Property

Following a three and one-half week jury trial in Seattle, WSHB achieved unquestionable victory in a complex environmental exposure matter, involving a large, county-owned landfill. Partner Timothy J. Repass served as lead trial counsel, and successfully argued that the landfill operations and alleged fugitive gas emissions did not cause the impacts claimed by multiple homeowners. Plaintiffs claimed inverse condemnation, nuisance, negligence, and other causes of action related to the failure of a landfill pipeline, and also alleged landfill operation deficiencies and fugitive emissions of landfill gas. Multiple homeowner Plaintiffs were represented by Brad Jones and Stephen Tan, and their respective law firms, out of Seattle. WSHB’s client was the sole defendant at trial.

The trial involved two primary themes. In 2013, a gas delivery pipeline failure event at the landfill caused alleged short-term exposures to landfill gas. Plaintiffs focused, in part, on the design and construction of the pipeline and alleged that the county was negligent in both regards. Repass, along with fellow WSHB partner Philip B. Grennan, focused the defense on the lack of damages flowing from that event. Plaintiffs also argued that ongoing fugitive gas emissions over time caused significant impacts to their properties. WSHB was able to convince the jury that the ongoing operation of the landfill exceeded industry standards. “Through various experts and witnesses, we were able to show that they were dealing with a dynamic environment, and our client’s operation actually exceeded industry standards in many regards,” Repass said.

Trial involved dozens of witnesses, including several experts in various fields. Plaintiffs alleged damages of nearly $3.5 million, including potential attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest. Plaintiffs rejected collective settlement offers of over $2 million. After three days of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict of $282,225, which tracked the damages suggested by Repass in closing argument, and amounted to less than 10 percent of the damages sought by Plaintiffs.

Attorney Repass commented, “This was a tough trial with many complex issues. We were pleased to see that the jury followed our arguments and focused on the real issues. The jurors were extremely attentive throughout trial, and understood the problems with Plaintiffs’ case. We were able to explain the high level of engineering and science involved in the operation of a landfill, and show that our client did a remarkable job in both the development and operation of the landfill at issue. The jurors’ comments following the verdict showed this was an important consideration in their decision. We are very pleased with the result.”

 

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