A leading provider of construction cement in the USA was ordered yesterday to pay US$1.7 m in damages to a Baltimore concrete firm after the cement company was accused of selling a substandard product later used in a college dormitory at the Johns Hopkins University.
Lawyers for the now-defunct concrete company, Metro Ready Mix Inc., said yesterday’s jury verdict raised lingering questions about the practices of Essroc Cement Corp. and the structural soundness of highways, bridges and parking garages that have used its cement - a key ingredient in construction-grade concrete.
Among Metro’s problematic contracts were runways at Dulles International Airport and a parking garage at John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
"My client was concerned that someone was going to get killed," attorney Robert J. Weltchek said.
Lawyers for Metro accused Essroc of breach of contract after cement used in Metro concrete either had to be reinforced or ripped up on a variety of construction projects. Metro, saddled by the quality-control problems, eventually went out of business.
The jury in the monthlong trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore may have been most impressed by a last-minute witness described as a whistleblower, lawyers for Metro said yesterday. A former truck driver working with the company came forward late in the trial and said he testified for the plaintiff that he saw Essroc employees knowingly load his rig with inferior cement.
In an interview yesterday, the cement truck driver, Mike Icenroad, 48, of Washington County, added that he was also provided falsified documents at times about his concrete’s origins. Those papers said that the cement came from an Essroc plant in Martinsburg, W. Va., when, in fact, the load had come from a company plant in Pennsylvania, according to Icenroad.