Last week, a San Jose jury awarded the residents of California Hawaiian Mobile Estates $111 million for an alleged litany of troubles at the mobile home park. This is the largest award of its kind, with previous awards in other California cases up to around $12 million. If the verdicts stand, 61 tenants out of 1,500 people who live in the park could receive an average of $100,000 each in compensatory damages plus punitive damages of $1.57 million each. Of course, the plaintiffs’ attorneys would also walk away with 40% of the award. In an April 16, 2014 press release, Marguerite Nader, Equity LifeStyle Properties, Inc.’s (ELS) Chief Executive Officer, confirmed that: “We could not disagree more strongly with the jury’s verdicts. We will vigorously seek to overturn them in the trial court or on appeal, including but not limited to asking the trial judge to grant a new trial and to reduce the grossly excessive damages.”
The tenants’ complained of, among other things, a once-scenic artificial lakes became slick with slime, sewers backed up into people’s homes, brownouts and blackouts being common, and inadequate street lighting posing dangers to the residents. They also complained that the water for the entire park of 420 households would frequently be turned off without notice for up to 20 hours at a time. Residents formed a homeowners association in 2007 and filed suit in 2009. According to the residents’ attorneys, ELS was spending between $101,000 and $273,000 on upkeep annually at the mobile home park and taking in more than $4.5 million.
It its April 16, 2014 press release, responding to the jury verdicts, ELS contended that “[w]ith respect to compensatory damages, no evidence was presented that any plaintiff suffered any physical injury requiring medical attention, and the documentary evidence of repairs to plaintiffs’ homes or property totaled less than $3,000 collectively for all plaintiffs. In addition, approximately 75% of the compensatory damages verdict was awarded as compensation for emotional distress even though there was no evidence that any plaintiff had sought or received attention from any healthcare provider of any kind for emotional distress.” It further reported that the mobile home park was “developed in the 1960s, and is 100% occupied,” and the plaintiffs’ complaints included various utility outages, which it contends are not uncommon in properties of similar age and that such issues were remedied.
Additional Sources: Inside Bay Area, Jury awards record $111 million to San Jose trailer park residents (Apr. 21, 2014); San Jose Mercury News, Jury awards record $111 million to trailer park residents (Apr. 20, 2014)