In the largest SB 800 jury trial to go to verdict in California, Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP obtained a resounding victory against 21 plaintiff homeowners in a closely watched construction defect dispute. In the Boyd v Western Pacific Housing case, involving 21 single family homes located in Riverside County, WSHB trial lawyers Keith Smith and Gregory Amundson represented homebuilder Western Pacific Housing dba D.R. Horton America's Builder and secured a verdict that represents less than 14% of the cost to repair requested by plaintiffs at the close of trial. The plaintiff homeowners were represented by Barry Vaughan, Esq. of the firm of Kasdan, Simonds, Weber & Vaughan.
After nearly five years of litigation and a two-month long trial, a Riverside County jury awarded plaintiffs a total of $162,265.41 for the 21 homes, inclusive of the cost to repair and expert investigative costs recoverable under the SB 800 statute. Throughout the life of the case, Plaintiffs' cost to repair ranged from $5.2 million to $3.8 million. Prior to the start of trial and motions in limine, Plaintiffs' cost to repair was $3.8 million. When Plaintiffs rested during trial, they put forth a cost to repair of $1.2 million.
"In speaking with the jury, they were impressed that our client stood ready, willing and able to perform repairs," said trial lawyer Keith Smith. "They could not understand why the homeowners didn't pick up the telephone and contact customer service, as opposed to going out and hiring attorneys and experts to seek damages when their homes could have been fixed by initiating a telephone call."
WSH&B was able to significantly reduce many of the asserted claims through aggressive pre-trial motions in limine, including dismissal of the largest claim dealing with the allegation of moisture intrusion through the concrete slabs. On the largest component of plaintiffs' remaining claims, the jury rejected plaintiffs' recommendation to re-roof all homes and instead adopted the defense cost to repair for that issue. The jury awarded no damages to any of the plaintiffs for claims pertaining to fire proofing, shutters, concrete foundations and wood trims. The jury agreed with the aggressive defense position on extrapolation and did not award damages based upon the extrapolation utilized by plaintiffs' experts.
Notably, the $162,265.41 amount takes into consideration the comparative fault reductions awarded by the jury based upon the affirmative defenses in the SB 800 statute, including the homeowners' lack of maintenance and failure to follow the maintenance manual and commonly accepted homeowner maintenance obligations. The jury found comparative fault in the range of 20%-40% for the stucco claims, which was the largest component of the jury award.
"This case is a watershed verdict for the building industry," said founding partner Stephen Henning. "SB 800 has been the law now for over 10 years, but this is the first time a mass construction defect case involving this right to repair statute has been tried to verdict. While trials of construction defect cases are few and far between, this result alone bodes well for homebuilders throughout the nation who avail themselves of the right to repair."