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Santa Barbara Jury Returns Defense Verdict in Complex Asbestos/Mold Exposure Case; Plaintiffs Responsible for Defendants Attorneys’ Fees and Costs

May 7, 2013

(Santa Barbara,CA)  May 6, 2013 — Following a nine week trial, a Santa Barbara jury returned a 12-0 defense verdict in a closely-watched case involving complex claims of bodily injuries and economic damages in a mold exposure and asbestos trial before the Honorable Colleen K. Sterne.  Victoria L. Ersoff and Uyen N. Nguyen with the law firm of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP represented the defendants.

 Plaintiffs Inger Budke, William Budke and their two minor children, Kristiana and Sofia Budke, sued the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, its Executive Director/CEO; Deputy Executive Director/COO; and Director of Property & Development for bodily injuries, emotional distress, property damage, loss of consortium and economic losses allegedly stemming from exposure to mold and asbestos in a senior housing community located in Santa Barbara, California. 

Inger Budke worked as the Resident Coordinator at the 107-unit Senior Housing Complex owned by Defendant Housing Authority.  The Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara assists over 3,200 senior, disabled, and low-income family households through a variety of affordable rental programs.  It has received numerous awards over the years for its dedication to the community.

As the Resident Coordinator, Plaintiff Inger Budke resided at the facility with her family.  Plaintiffs accused Defendants of failing to appropriately remediate conditions in the apartment which lead to moisture, elevated humidity and mold growth. Plaintiffs also claimed that the Defendants did not properly train their maintenance crew regarding the identification and remediation of mold and asbestos, and violated asbestos regulations in their maintenance and remediation work property-wide.  Plaintiffs contend that they experienced adverse health conditions as a result of living in an uninhabitable apartment from 1998 until 2012. They claim that their daughters, both of whom were born in the apartment, developed asthma and severe allergies, and that their youngest daughter was born with severe neuro-cognitive and neuro-behavioral deficits as a result of the conditions in the apartment. 

Strategically crafted motions in limine and a full week of 402 hearings resulted in all neurological, neurobehavioral and psychological claims being dismissed by the Court.  Additionally, all evidence relating to mycotoxins and poisons was likewise dismissed. 

Plaintiffs took seven weeks to present their case to the jury.  “We knew we had a smart jury and, with such a long trial, we made the strategic decision to cut our witness list in half and present our entire case in only eight days,” said Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman lead trial attorney Victoria Ersoff.  After deliberating less than one day, the jury returned with a verdict for the Defense.  They also found Plaintiff Inger Budke to be contributorily negligent. 

Prior to trial, Defendants served statutory offers to compromise on each of the Plaintiffs totaling $54,000.  In voir dire, plaintiffs’ counsel informed the panel she would be asking the jury to award her client millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.  By virtue of the defense verdict and the Court’s granting of Defendants’ Nonsuit, Defendants are entitled to recover from Plaintiffs their attorneys’ fees, court and expert witness costs as the prevailing party on Plaintiffs’ Civil Code Section 1942.4 claim.

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