In an anti-climactic ending to what has been labeled Nevada's largest-ever construction defect lawsuit, a jury awarded $4 million in damages to the owners of 70 out of 1,000 Las Vegas Sun City Summerlin homes included in the case. The rest of the homeowners were given no awards and could be charged with legal fees, Pulte said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed in 2003 as a class-action case, claimed that damages related to allegedly defective stucco could total several hundred million dollars. But class certification was denied, and the plaintiffs' attorneys filed individual cases on behalf of the owners of almost 1,000 homes.
Pulte officials said they doubt that even the 70 homes awarded damages had true defects. "We disagree with the jury's conclusion that there are issues with even the small number of homes listed in the verdict," said Michael Laramie, associate general counsel for Pulte Homes. "We had virtually no complaints of stucco issues in the community prior to this lawsuit being filed."
"We are prepared to defend ourselves in court when anyone levels a questionable claim of this sort against us," Laramie added. "It's unfortunate that these lawyers were able to persuade so many homeowners to get tangled up in this."
An attorney for the plaintiffs said the homeowners came to them and that the award will likely be appealed even though, technically, the case was a win. Michael Schulman, of Wolf Rifkin Shapiro Schulman & Rabkin, said that the jury appeared to find damages for all the homeowners who testified in the case. Due to time constraints, it was impossible for all 1,000 plaintiffs to testify, he said. Plus, the jury was not allowed to see 50,000 photos of damage to other homes, he said.
"It's our initial view that they found damages and substantial damages of $50,000 to $70,000 on homes," Schulman said. "For us, it was a victory; but it's not what we believe it should be."
Pulte's Del Webb operation built approximately 8,000 homes at Sun City Summerlin between 1988 and 1998. In the 15 years after the first homes were built, the company received fewer than 100 service requests for any stucco related issues, Pulte's statement said.
"It's an unfortunate situation for many of these homeowners as Pulte Homes has always been fully committed to delivering customer satisfaction and quality," said Scott Wright, president of Pulte's Las Vegas division, which includes Del Webb operations. "We have a reputation for consistently addressing homeowner issues, and in this case we had virtually no complaints of stucco issues prior to this lawsuit being filed."
Lisa Brown is managing editor at BIG BUILDER magazine.
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