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John Cromer secures directed verdict for an environmental services client in alleged breach of contract and professional liability case

Earlier this month, Member John B. Cromer secured a directed verdict ruling for an environmental services client who, along with a subconsulting entity, was facing breach of contract and professional negligence allegations in the design of a water treatment plant that did not meet West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) effluent discharge standards. This caused the agency to reject the work that was done on the facility.

After being awarded a contract by the WVDEP, the plaintiff, an engineering company, entered into a subconsulting agreement with an environmental services firm, the co-defendant, to develop a reclamation plan for a water treatment facility to remedy the problem caused from abandoned mine site drainage. Mr. Cromer’s client was the design professional in charge of the water treatment process and plant design.

Throughout the week-long trial, it was established that different design parameters and water quality specifications were given to the defendants in the subconsulting agreement. It was also determined that the agency’s self-imposed standard in this instance was higher than the expected goal. Later testing after the treatment facility was operational showed consistent levels meeting that standard or less.

Despite the plaintiff introducing testimony from seven witnesses, 30 pieces of evidence and arguing for almost $1 million in damages, the court concluded that the plaintiff had failed to prove that the defendants breached the standard of care in performing the duties outlined in the contract and that there was ‘no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the plaintiff.’

Note: The results obtained in a particular case are, of course, always heavily dependent on the facts and the law specific to that case.