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Engineering firm handed hefty bill

Expressway consulting firm handed mediation bill

Published May 5, 2006

TAMPA - An engineering firm will have to reimburse the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority for the cost of unsuccessful mediation, a judge said Thursday.

Circuit Judge Sam Pendino's decision came after a hearing that he called "a shoot-out at the O.K. Corral."

In one corner were attorneys for URS Corp., the engineering consultant that worked on the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway's elevated-roadway project that collapsed in 2004.

In the other corner were attorneys for the authority, which is suing URS for $120-million for failing to sufficiently test the soil under the new highway.

The authority demanded that URS pay it as much as $100,000.

That money would pay for three lawyers who prepared and attended two two-day mediation sessions, one held at the swank Gaylord Palms Resort Hotel in Kissimmee.

The costs include catering, mediator fees and experts fees.

"We are here today to recover the public's money," said lawyer Robert Buesing. "We are only seeking to be made financially whole for this utter waste of time."

Buesing told Pendino the authority's contract with URS required it to go to mediation before going to court.

At each mediation session, he said, the engineering company showed up without their major insurance carriers, Lloyd's of London and Zurich Insurance.

They were the key players the authority was hoping to deal with, Buesing said.

Buesing said that URS declined to invite Lloyd's of London and Zurich Insurance to the final session, even though a judge had ordered them to do so.

That session ended in impasse, he said.

"Should toll payers and taxpayers of Hillsborough County have to bear this expense for this utterly wasted mediation process?" Buesing asked Pendino. "The citizens of Hillsborough County should not have to absorb this cost."

Guy Spicola, an attorney representing URS, blamed the authority for undermining the process.

"This hearing is totally unnecessary and uncalled for," Spicola said. "It's just another example of an itchy trigger finger on the part of opposing counsel to shoot down the mediation process."

At the final mediation, the mediator told URS's lawyer that the company need not bring representatives of Lloyd's and Zurich, Spicola said.

Representatives from the company's other insurers were present, he said.

Pendino ordered the two sides back to mediation.

"And let me tell you why," Pendino said.

At the final mediation session, URS was under a judge's order to bring representatives of all its insurance carriers, he said. Nothing the mediator said could have overruled that authority.

Pendino said he would decide after mediation later how much URS would have to pay. He gave the sides 60 days to meet.

[Last modified May 5, 2006, 02:30:26]

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