What may be Hall County's longest civil trial came to a close Tuesday with a jury ordering a supermarket chain to pay attorneys fees and punitive damages to a Flowery Branch couple for runoff erosion.
The final total jury award for the plaintiffs in the case of Lynn and Gary Kempler versus Ingles Markets, Inc. came to $1.4 million. The trial started April 19 and was in its fifth week when the jury's service ended Tuesday.
Several longtime court observers could not recall another civil trial in Hall County lasting as long.
On Tuesday, Judge Andy Fuller told the jury of seven women and five men they could get back to their jobs, "which we have not let you do for about a month."
Jurors decided in the third and final phase of the trial that the Kemplers should be awarded $236,000 in attorneys' fees and $200,000 in punitive damages for the erosion of their land and sediment buildup in a pond they own on 100 acres in Flowery Branch.
Last week the jury ordered Ingles and two contractors to pay $975,000 for remediation and loss in value of the Kemplers' land.
At the center of the dispute was a stormwater detention pond at the site of a Ingles shopping center built in 2007 on Winder Highway. The plaintiffs claimed the detention pond was poorly designed and maintained, resulting in runoff of up to six times the normal flow of water onto their property.
The plaintiffs also alleged that contractors for Ingles continued to make improper modifications to the detention pond, leading up to and during the trial.
"I think the jury intended to send a message to Ingles," said the Kemplers' attorney, Robert W. Chambers III. "You don't see many $1.4 million erosion cases coming out of this county, but the facts justified it."
Chambers said while the punitive damages were far short of the $2 million he asked for, "at least they found clear and convincing evidence that (Ingles) needed to be punished in some form or fashion."
Samuel Arden, the lead attorney representing Ingles in the trial, declined to comment after the verdict. A call seeking comment from the company's corporate headquarters in Asheville, N.C., was not immediately returned.
Jurors could not comment after the verdict because of a standing order from the judge not to discuss the case.
Fuller told the jurors that they were in recess but were not excused from the trial, in case they needed to be called back to decide any post-judgment matters. He said he would notify jurors within 10 days whether they would be needed again.
Fuller praised the jurors for their dedication to the case.
"Perhaps this has been long, and you've been weary, but I hope you understand the importance of the role of the jury in our judicial system," Fuller said. "I offer my appreciation."