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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Barn collapse case concludes with big judgment

A lawsuit commenced by Terpstra Farms Ltd. against several parties for damages arising from the collapse of a hog barn roof has ended with a large judgment in favour of Terpstra. The trial proceeded before a jury and so there is no reported judgment. However, a court decision was released this week regarding the amount of the judgment, costs and interest as well as the effect of an earlier settlement agreement between Terpstra and one of the defendants.

At trial in January, the jury found the company that constructed the barn, D.W. Lorentz Construction Inc., 85% at fault for the roof collapse. The remaining 15% fault was attributed to Argue and Associates, an agricultural structural engineering firm involved in the barn design. In September, 2009, however, Argue and Associates settled out of the action by paying Terpstra the sum of $295,000, inclusive of damages, costs and interest. On this basis, the action was dismissed as against Argue, and Terpstra agreed to indemnify and hold Argue harmless from any other amount it was found liable for in the trial.

With this agreement in place, the trial judge was left with the task of fully compensating the plaintiff, Terpstra, but preventing a double recovery. The judge concluded that to do so, the costs must be deducted from the settlement amount before factoring the balance of the settlement against what Lorentz owes to the plaintiff. Costs of the action incurred up to the date of the Argue settlement were split 85/15 between the two defendants. Costs of the action incurred after the settlement were solely the responsibility of Lorentz.

With pre-judgment interest factored in, the jury award of damages totalled nearly $600,000. The share of this amount to be borne by Lorentz, taking into account the amount received from Argue (and avoiding double recovery) was pegged at more than $334,000. On top of that, the trial judge awarded costs to Terpstra to be paid by Lorentz in the amount of $353,675.19. The action was commenced in 2002 and trial lasted more than two weeks before a jury.