Following a 28-day trial, a Los Angeles jury returned a defense verdict for a defendant professional property manager involving complex claims of bodily injuries and economic damages in a sewage and mold exposure case. Peter J. Burfening, Jr., of Wood Smith Henning & Berman represented the defendant property manager.
In the case, 13 plaintiffs, including six minor children, alleged that numerous sewage overflows, plumbing backups and water leaks were allowed to exist in their rent- controlled apartment units. Plaintiffs accused the Defendant of failing to appropriately respond to and remediate conditions in the apartment units, which led to moisture, elevated humidity, mold growth and other exposures to toxic substances as a result of the sewage water.
Plaintiffs also claimed that Defendant negligently failed to put in place a tenant habitability plan pursuant to the City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department. Plaintiffs claimed that they experienced adverse health conditions as a result of living in the uninhabitable apartments, including asthma, allergies, and other breathing problems. The plaintiffs also claimed severe emotional distress from the experience, including one plaintiff who alleged that her attempted suicide was a result of Defendant's actions.
During trial, Burfening successfully argued that the claims against the property manager were professional negligence claims, not simple negligence claims. The Court agreed and ordered that plaintiffs must present expert testimony that the defendant property manager's conduct fell below the applicable standard of care within the community. The Court further allowed the following instruction to the jury: if it was determined that the defendant property manager's conduct fell below the standard of care, the jury would also have to find that the conduct caused actual damage to the plaintiffs in order for plaintiffs to prevail.
Plaintiffs made a pre-trial settlement demand of $1,000,000. Prior to trial, Defendant served statutory offers to compromise on each of the Plaintiffs totaling $20,500. In closing arguments, Plaintiffs' counsel asked the jury for an award of $891,000 against the defendant property manager. Defendant plans to recover all costs incurred in the defense of this lawsuit, including expert witness fees.