Preliminary ruling: jury rules in favor of county in courthouse HVAC lawsuit

The Lincoln County lawsuit against companies that installed a geothermal HVAC system at the county courthouse in 2014 will continue, after a jury ruling on Wednesday.

After considering a day of testimony, a six-member Dawson County jury ruled that the statute of limitations did not apply and Lincoln County’s claim for compensation could continue.

In the long-standing legal claim, Lincoln County seeks damages from the well driller and the system designer. The well and piping were installed by Nebcon Inc. of Omaha. The designer was Lincoln’s ME Group. The ME group raised the limitation exception. Additionally, Old Republic Surety Group, an insurance company, filed a similar defense.

The system has never functioned properly since it was installed, and the question of which company, if any, has been negligent and who should pay the losses, remains unanswered.

For years, the county has installed a pipe every summer to carry the “return” water from the system through the courthouse window to Fourth St. and into a city storm sewer grate next to the sidewalk.

In a normal geothermal system, groundwater at a temperature of around 50 degrees F. is pumped through the building, through heat exchangers and condensers that cool the courthouse in the summer and heat it in the winter. But the return water mixes with the inlet water in this unique well system, fouling the process.

The courthouse’s heating was cut for two weeks, employees said on Monday, December 6. Workers used heaters in their offices and wore sweaters in the Commissioner’s meeting rooms on the first floor.

The jury ruled that the Lincoln County claim had not started in 2014, but on August 22, 2017, when the ME group’s “alleged act or omission in the performance or failure to provide professional services” has occurred. Lincoln County uncovered facts leading up to the trial at that time, the jury said.

The jury also ruled that the professional relationship between the county and ME Group had never been severed, although it apparently became inactive. And, regarding the Old Republic Surety Company claim, the jury ruled that the HVAC project was never substantially completed.

So far, the county has paid Nebcon $ 221,913 for the existing system, which it wants reimbursed for, along with its legal bills. The cost of another well, which would be necessary to rectify the situation, is estimated at around $ 240,000, according to an estimate previously provided to the court.

© 2021 Le Bulletin de la Platte Nord. All rights reserved.

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