Anatomy of a Case: Grosse Ile Township
January 30, 2020
The North‐South Interceptor Project involved the installation of 2 to 4 foot sewer pipes at depths of over 50 feet. The Project was mandated by the State of Michigan to prevent the discharge of raw sewage into the Detroit River. Grosse Ile and its engineers selected micro‐tunneling as the installation method and conducted extensive soil borings along the route. The borings and other geotechnical data indicated that the sewer would be placed in mostly clay soils containing occasional cobbles with PSIs of 5,000‐10,000. However, the contractor encountered dozens of boulders several feet in diameter with PSIs from 20,000 to 30,000. This, and other, differing site conditions caused a delay of several years and millions of dollars in additional costs.
When the client came to McAlpine, the case had been languishing in Circuit Court for several years with very little progress. Immediately upon taking over the case, McAlpine began to position the case for trial. In defense of the contractor’s claims, the Township retained experts to testify that, among other things, the contractor could have overcome the existence of boulders had it switched to a special rock cutter head. The challenge, as with all construction cases, would be to counter these arguments in a way that the average juror could understand.
Working with its client and its own team of experts, McAlpine devised a strategy to refute the Township’s arguments. McAlpine hired a graphics designer, Focal Point of Oakland, California, to create a series of 3D animations depicting the effect of boulders on the progress of the micro‐tunneling machine. Using the animations, McAlpine demonstrated that the rock cutter head suggested by the Township would only have made matters worse in clay soil. The smaller openings of the rock face would have become clogged with the clay, impeding any progress. McAlpine then conducted a mock trial to test its arguments and receive valuable feedback.
On the eve of trial, the Judge engaged the parties in settlement negotiations. McAlpine shared the result of the mock trial with the Township, including the actual verdict forms. McAlpine also shared all of its animations and other demonstrative exhibits, demonstrating that it was fully prepared to go forward with trial. Over the course of several days, the Township increased its offer three‐fold, resulting in an $8 million settlement, demonstrating that the surest way to avoid a trial is to be prepared for one.