WALLA WALLA — A Walla Walla County jury awarded an Asotin couple $1.65 million in damages Monday, the culmination of a long-running civil case against Asotin County and its Public Works Department over the Ten Mile Bridge project.
The verdicts in favor of plaintiffs Richard and Shannon Eggleston were $800,000 for breach of contract, $600,000 for inverse condemnation and $250,000 for water trespass.
The Egglestons, who reside along Snake River Road near the bridge, were represented by Clarkston attorney Todd Richardson. Ephrata attorney Brian Christensen handled the case on behalf of Asotin County.
“It’s a sad thing it had to get to this point,” Richardson said Monday. “Over the years, Rich tried to settle this case with Asotin County a number of times, often against my advice. The county wasn’t interested in what he had to say. As a result, we ended up at trial with a jury and, fortunately, the jury was interested.”
The trial before Walla Walla County Judge John Lohrmann began Oct. 1 and went to the jury Friday afternoon. The panel deliberated about an hour Friday and two hours Monday before returning with their decision.
The Egglestons were present when the verdicts were read.
“The jury said there were no issues about who was at fault,” Richard Eggleston told the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. “It’s been seven years of trying to get the right thing done.”
Shannon Eggleston said her husband’s willingness to fight for what they felt was right was another reason for the victory.
“(Asotin County officials) didn’t know how smart, experienced and persistent Richard is,” she said.
Asotin County Commission Chairman Chris Seubert said the jury’s decision is bad news for the county. Officials are now reviewing the verdict and options with legal counsel.
“We heard the verdict, and we know it won’t be good for the county and county residents,” Seubert said Monday. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. We are still waiting to talk to our attorney about the next steps.”
The overall price tag of the lawsuit is still unknown, said Asotin County Chief Operating Officer Chris Kemp. Attorney fees may be added to the damages, and the costs of staff time and travel to the trial haven’t been tallied.
Another unknown is whether the county’s insurance carrier, Washington Rural Counties Insurance Program, will foot the bill. If not, the money may have to come directly out of the county’s coffers.
“It could potentially be a devastating outcome,” Kemp said.
The Egglestons have been at odds with Asotin County for 17 years over the Ten Mile Bridge project near their home and former Aardvark’s boat rental business. And this isn’t the first time they’ve been in court. In 2016, Asotin County was ordered to pay almost $100,000 to Eggleston and his attorney for a public records violation connected to the project.
In the latest case, Richardson successfully argued for damages from the construction, saying the county agreed to keep the Egglestons’ business driveway open, put in a new water line and retain the new slopes coming onto their land from the project.
However, Asotin County cut off access to Aardvark’s, and the couple had to sell the boats in 2011, Richardson said. In addition, the slopes were not retained, and stormwater from the project further damaged his clients’ property.
“It is very gratifying that a jury saw the justness of the Egglestons’ case and has now compensated them for their loss,” Richardson said in a Facebook post. “Finally, the Eggleston story has been heard, and people can know that Rich and Shannon were right. All those who have criticized can now fall silent, for a fair and impartial jury have heard the facts and have rendered their verdict.”
A motion now will be filed for attorneys fees, Richardson said. Those costs weren’t included in the $1.65 million in damages.
Christensen, who works for the law firm Jerry Moberg and Associates, could not be reached for comment after the verdict was read.
Sandaine may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri. Walla Walla Union-Bulletin reporter Andy Porter contributed to this article.