Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Of Public Meetings and Private Depositions

Yesterday I prepared to conduct that evening meeting at the City of Centerton. The flood study that I had completed for the headwaters of Little Osage Creek will result in 66 structures--primary residences, commercial buildings, and church buildings--out of the flood plain, but will add 23 new properties to the floodplain. Unfortunate, but my best judgment is that those 23 properties are in a flood hazard area and should be so designated. I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

For the public meeting, we expected none of the 66 people coming out to attend and most of the 23 going in to attend. It wasn't quite that bad, but close to is. No one wants to learn they need to buy another insurance policy for between $500 and $1000 a year. Everyone says their house never flooded and never will flood so how can they possibly be in the flood plain? Everyone says their house is higher than their neighbors so how can their house be in and their neighbor's house be out? All valid questions, all fielded well, I hope.

Also at the meeting was an official from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, who is an expert on both the engineering aspects of flooding and the flood insurance issues themselves. I don't know insurance, and learned quite a bit from what he said. He also backed me up on everything I said concerning flood waters and how a study like this is conducted and why some properties are in the flood hazard zone and some are out.

Now that this is over and the application for a map change is at FEMA, I get to rest on this for a couple of months. I have another flood study to do for this same city, and will begin that in perhaps a week or so. Now I turn to this deposition I am called to give. One of our former clients is suing the company, saying we are a bunch of screw-ups who cost them a lot of money. We did six or seven projects for them; they sued us over most of them; the judge threw out all but one of the lawsuits.

That one project is the one for this client that I had the least involvement with. I'm not quite sure why. On the others I was the engineer of record and did extensive checks of the drawings, drainage reports, and other documents. I reviewed them multiple times from preliminary drawings to construction drawings. I met with city utility departments to find out what the utility requirements were. I talked with city planners and city engineers to find out what the street issues were. I signed and sealed the final drawings. I was involved with some of the construction issues. But on this project, I checked only one set of 5 drawings, which were considered a preliminary plat submittal to the City. I had no involvement with the project before or after that.

Because I reviewed that one set, and that set was in the file when the opposing attorney conducted his discovery, I must testify. I don't mind testifying. I've done it about a dozen times in my career, all but one time on civil law or administrative law issues. You're always a little bit apprehensive, however. The attorney across the table from you will not actually be interested in the facts. His sole purpose is to be an advocate for his client. If he can catch you in a false statement, great. If he senses you are hesitant at some point, he will hone in on that and then make it an issue during the trial. He will be looking for where you disagreed with your colleagues and will point that out in the trial.

And, he will take that deposition with him to the trial, months and months from now, and will hope to use it against you if anything you say during the trial is different from what you said in your deposition. So this is matter of concern.

My deposition is scheduled for Thursday the 17th, but they thought they might have time for it yesterday afternoon. They only had one scheduled, the department head, and thought if that didn't go terribly long they would call me and take mine yesterday. But they "grilled" the department head for four hours or more, and decided to call it quits for the day. Mine will be Thursday as scheduled. This gives me a chance to do a little more preparation.

And, I think I'll write an article for How to Prepare to Give a Deposition. I might even qualify as my own expert on that one.

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