Saturday, November 12, 2016

$9.6 million jury verdict for construction negligence against D.R. HORTON, top St. Augustine Record advertiser -- did Record print anything?

In May 2016, there was a $9.6 million jury verdict for construction negligence against D.R. HORTON, top St. Augustine Record advertiser -- did the Record print anything?

Not that I can find.

D.R. Horton is not only America's largest home builder, but The St. Augustine Record's largest advertiser.

There was a 38 day trial.

This is the news that home buyers here in St. Johns County have a right to know. One of the condo owners is Ocala State's Attorney Bradley E. King, who helped cover up the Michelle O'Connell shooting case and has applied for a vacant Florida Supreme Court seat. Researching King, found the story, never covered by the rebarbative Record. Journalistic negligence? Coverups 'R' Us?

Thank God for Anne Schindler, a real journalist, who broke the Michelle O'Connell story while she was still at Folio Weekly.

Here's Anne Schindler's First Coast News story on the $9.6 million verdict against D.R. Horton:

DR Horton negligent in Jax condo case, jury awards $9.6 million
DR Horton has build structurally deficient homes and must pay to fix them.

Anne Schindler, WTLV 11:57 AM. EST May 20, 2016
(Photo: Schindler, Anne)

JACKSONVILLE - JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—After four years of litigation and an epic 38-day trial, a jury found America’s largest homebuilder was negligent when it built the Jacksonville community of Heron's Landing.

The verdict requires DR Horton to pay $9.6 million to remove and replace the stucco, roofs and windows on the entire 240-unit development.

Condo residents and experts testified that the Beach Boulevard structures violate Florida building code, and are riddled with defects, including cracked stucco, leaking roofs, and failing windows and sliding glass doors.

Attorneys say the damage amounts to $9 million, or nearly $38,000 per condo.

Before discharging the six member jury, Circuit Judge James Daniel said words could not convey his gratitude for their lengthy service and careful attention. He said a personal goodbye to each juror as they left, shaking their hands, and it was clear jurors were moved. One juror said she was “a hugger,” before embracing the judge tearfully. “It’s emotional,” she admitted.

Heron's Landing property manager Karen Floyd celebrated the verdict. "There are so many developer/builders that build these complexes, walk away from it, and don't look back," she told First Coast News. "And they're not ever held accountable. I think this is a landmark case where the builder/developer has been held accountable now."

Resident Paul Vetter said he hoped the verdict encouraged others to pursue construction defect cases. "If you have an issue with the builder, go for it! We stuck, in there three years [almost four], and there were times when it was really tough, and we had to dig deep in our pockets. Now, it's a message that it can be done."

DR Horton, the nation’s largest home builder, had denied the claim. Its attorneys say the condos are “fine” and that any defects are isolated or insignificant. The company has also said that the condo owner association failed to properly maintain the buildings, contributing to their condition.

The case has featured thousands of exhibits and dozens of witnesses, including some prominent residents. Fifth District State Attorney Brad King testified that a condo he bought for his college aged children in lieu of a rental had extensive leaks, plumbing failures and stucco problems.

Magistrate John Sampson, who typically presides over Duval County Drug Court, also serves as President of the Heron’s Landing Condo Association Board. He testified the problems were extensive – and compared it to a “cancer.”

“The more we discovered the more there was,” Sampson told the jury. “It just kept growing and growing.”

DR Horton Executive VP and Chief Operating Officer John Zakoske defended the company’s construction practices. “It makes more sense for us to give you a good product have you refer your friends and family, your coworkers to us.” he told the jury.

“We can sell them a home or sell you your next home. It’s just good business We really don’t do that much advertising so we rely on word of mouth and our reputation in the community to sell houses and stay in business."

DR Horton attorneys did not comment following the case, but both the condo owners and their lawyers anticipate the company will appeal. Regardless, plaintiffs' attorneys will face DR Horton again soon. They have a similar claim against the company from an almost identical Jacksonville development, called Windsor Falls.

DR Horton Chief Operating Officer John Zakoske defended the community of Heron's Landing, telling jurors "it's just good business sense" to build good homes.

Circuit Judge James Daniel told jurors Tuesday that they had to determine three things: if the buildings violate state building code, whether the plaintiffs were “damaged” by that, and if DR Horton knew or should have known about the violations.

More than a dozen condo owners and two dozen supporters of DR Horton attended Tuesday’s closing arguments. The case is an extremely rare airing of structural defect claims. Virtually all new home contracts require that defect clams be handled in secret arbitration proceedings. In this case, the Condo Association rather than the individual homeowners sued, contending isn’t bound by contracts signed by homeowners.

Despite the length of the 36 day trial, the six jurors and three alternates remained attentive and seemingly good natured. Jurors are paid $30 a day for their services, but they do not receive that money until after the conclusion of the trial.

Heron’s Landing attorney Barry Ansbacher presented his closing arguments Tuesday morning, telling jurors that DR Horton chose “speed and greed” over quality construction.

“Just do it right,” he said, evoking their motto, “America’s largest homebuilder.” He asked the jury to award $9 million to repair the buildings.

DR Horton attorney Robert Carlson began his closing arguments after lunch.

"We aren't going to demonize the home owners," he said. "We like the homeowners. In fact, we would like them to buy another home from DR Horton and think at the end of this trial they might because they are performing fine."


State Attorney found construction defects at DR Horton condo
Anne Schindler, WTLV 7:10 PM. EST May 01, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A high profile witness took the stand Friday in case that accuses America’s largest homebuilder of violating state building codes.

Fifth District State Attorney Brad King, who has represented west-central Florida since 1989, owns a condo at Heron’s Landing on Beach Boulevard. He is by far the most recognizable person to testify, but his story was similar to that of other owners at the development.

He described a litany of problems, including roof leaks, stucco fixtures falling off the house and problems with the air conditioning and electrical systems. He said he did considerable research before he bought the condo in 2007, and relied in large part on DR Horton’s size and position on the New York Stock Exchange when he decided to buy from them. “Because of their size …part of my idea was if DR Horton is this big corporation that builds all over, they are going to have construction managers on site checking to make sure everything is done the way it’s supposed to be done.”

King said he ended up being disappointed in his purchase, which he says is no longer worth what he paid.
King joins a parade of witnesses who have attested to a range of construction defects at the 240-unit Heron’s Landing. The focus of the case is cracked stucco, leaking roofs, and failing windows and sliding glass doors, but residents have complained about poor soundproofing, poor drainage, poor performing air conditioning, broken plumbing, even garage doors falling off. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say DR Horton failed to supervise construction and monitor its subcontractors, resulting in homes that violate Florida Building Code.

The company disputes that, arguing they hired reliable subcontractors, and that all of the buildings passed inspection and were certified by the city of Jacksonville.

The lawsuit, filed in 2013, is unusual because construction defect claims are typically handled in secret arbitration proceedings. Virtually every new home contract prohibits owners from suing in open court, and instead forces them into a closed hearing with the builder. Because this case was filed not by individual condo owners, but by the condo association, the claim is freed from those limitations.

Attorneys for D.R. Horton declined to discuss the case. A spokesperson from the company’s Texas headquarters said it is company policy to handle all media inquiries in writing, but they issued the following statement: "D.R. Horton is committed to superior customer service and providing families with quality homes and neighborhoods in North Florida. While we do not believe the community has the construction defects alleged in the lawsuit, D.R. Horton intends to fully cooperate with the legal process."

The lengthy and complicated trial began with jury selection on April 12. The Duval County Clerk of Court summoned an extra large jury pool—150 potential jurors to fill six seats, with three alternates – in part because the DR Horton name is on so many local developments. In fact, the original judge in the case, Karen Cole, had to recuse herself because her assistant lives in a DR Horton home.

The trial portion of the case was initially projected to last four weeks, but all parties now concede it will take longer. Circuit Judge Jim Daniel told jurors Thursday that they would need to discuss contingency plans for work and family responsibilities. Friday, the bailiff said all jurors would be able to accommodate the extension.

There will be no court Monday, due to the death of one of the laywer's relatives.

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