Trial set in company's lawsuit against the cityA contractor's lawsuit against the city of Woodbury over a four-year-old road project is headed for trial.
By: Scott Wente, Woodbury Bulletin
A contractor's lawsuit against the city of Woodbury over a four-year-old road project is headed for trial.
A mediation session with the city and Danner Inc., general contractor on a Weir Drive improvement project, failed to produce a settlement, attorneys for the two parties said.
Danner is suing for damages it said it incurred when the city would not extend the road project's deadline. The company plans to argue in a March trial that those were six-figure damages, its attorney said.
The city wanted the case thrown out of Washington County District Court and disputed who was at fault for extra costs Danner may have incurred on the project.
The city of Woodbury is not at fault, city attorney Mark Vierling said.
The Woodbury City Council awarded a construction contract to Danner in June 2005 and the project started soon after. The work – improving a stretch of Weir Drive between Upper Afton and Tamarack roads – came ahead of a larger construction project on Valley Creek Road in spring of 2006.
During the Weir Drive project, Danner requested an extension to the city's deadline because it was clear that the time line would be difficult to meet, Danner attorney Jim Blaney said. The city did not grant the request.
In its civil complaint filed against the city this past January, Danner claimed it is owed payment beyond what was in its contract because it was forced to speed up work to meet the city's deadline.
All road projects have a deadline, Vierling said. The city probably could not extend the Weir Drive project because it was preparatory work for the Valley Creek Road improvements, he said.
Nevertheless, the tight deadline resulted in increased costs for Danner, Blaney said, declining to specify an exact dollar amount. Labor costs are affected when a project is accelerated, as are material, storage and equipment costs.
Both parties have pointed fingers at Xcel Energy and Qwest Communications, claiming there were project delays resulting from the companies' slow response to city requests for utility work. Power lines and telephone lines had to be relocated, but the utilities did not complete the work when they should have, the city said in court documents.
“We know that there were delays,” Vierling said. “We just don't know to what extent those delays precipitated actual damage.”
The city said if Danner is to be awarded damages in the case, it should look to the utilities for payment, not the city.
“We didn't have a contract with Xcel or Qwest; our contract was with the city,” Blaney said. “If the city believes the utilities are responsible, then the city ought to convince the utilities to step up.”
In court filings, both utilities deny claims made by the city and Danner.
“We don’t comment on pending litigation,” Qwest spokeswoman Diane Reberger said.
While a settlement still is possible, a judge ordered a jury trial to begin March 1. Neither side would predict whether a deal will be reached to avoid the trial.
“I'm preparing as though it's going to trial,” Blaney said.
City administrator Clint Gridley mentioned the case during a recent city council meeting, saying the city is defending a “pretty important principal” in its contract with Danner. Gridley referred questions about the case to Vierling.
Vierling has met with council members and city staff in closed meetings in recent weeks to discuss the case. Those private meetings are allowed under state law.