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Daily Journal Verdict

RESULT DATE: Dec. 8, 2010
Zachos, et al. v. Gary L. Hendricks, individually; Erick Beck, individually; Samir Riad, individually, and dba Best Choice Property Management; Samir & Associates Inc.; a California corporation; Samir & Associates Inc., a California corporation, dba Best Choice Property Management; Michelle Denise Thompson, individually, and dba Best Choice Property Management also dba Best Choice Property Management by Ahern (RIC 466779) 11-JV_2994
Hon. Randall D. White
Riverside Superior

TOPIC: Real Property
SUB TOPIC: Landlord and Tenant
FURTHER DESCRIPTION: Mold Injury

VERDICT: $1,008,700 ATTORNEY Plaintiff – Matthew T. Poelstra (Green, Bryant & French, LLP, Palm Dessert). Defendant – Katharine L. Spaniac (Cihigoyenetche, Grossberg & Clouse, Rancho Cucamonga) for E. Beck, S. Riad, Best Choice, Samir & Associates, M.D. Thompson,; Doug Vining (Ghormley & Associates, APC, Irvine) for Gary Hendricks.
MEDICAL Plaintiff – Roger M. Katz, M.D., pediatrics, allergy, immunology, Los Angeles. Defendant – Sheldon L. Spector, M.D., allergy/immunology, Los Angeles.
TECHNICAL Plaintiff – Robert A. Carroll, AIA, forensic architecture/building analyst, San Diego; Andrew Puccetti, Ph.D., CIH, industrial hygiene, Corona del Mar; Brian Spiegel, CR, CIE, CMR, property damage assessment, water remediation standard of care, La Verne. Defendant – Brian Daly, C.I.H., P.E., industrial hygiene, Torrance; Rebecca Eliason, fabric/garment appraising, Los Angeles.

FACTS: In May 2003, plaintiffs, the Zachos family, moved into the subject property and resided there until December 2006. Unbeknownst to plaintiffs, the property was not permitted as a residential dwelling. In October 2006, the Riverside County Dept. of Building and Safety posted a “Notice of Violation” on the property.
Defendant Gary Hendricks owned the property for approximately three months during plaintiffs’ residency. Defendant Eric Beck owned the property from approximately August 2003 through December 2006. Beck hired Best Choice Property Management to manage the property during his ownership. Best Choice was first owned by Michelle Denise Thompson aka Michelle Ahern and Ahern & Ahern Inc., and then it changed ownership to Samir Riad and Samir & Associates Inc. During plaintiffs’ tenancy, the property suffered from chronic leaking and water intrusion from the roof, windows, and plumbing, causing extensive mold growth and indoor contamination. The property also became infested with mice, rats, insects and spiders. The property did not have hot water in the front bathroom and had particles of rust coming out the faucets. Plaintiffs became ill from the indoor mold and experienced severe allergy-type symptoms, as well as fungal skin infections, hives, rashes, and breathing problems, among other symptoms. Plaintiffs’ personal property contents were water and mold damaged and contaminated with settled mold spores.

PLAINTIFF’S CONTENTIONS: Plaintiffs claimed that Hendricks, Beck, and Best Choice failed to timely and properly respond to plaintiffs’ multiple verbal and written notifications of lack of hot water, plumbing leaks, roof leaks, and mold infestation. Plaintiffs alleged that Hendricks and Beck knew that the property was not permitted as a residential dwelling, but never told plaintiffs. Plaintiffs paid their rent every month under the written lease agreement until the time they moved out.

DEFENDANT’S CONTENTIONS: Hendricks contended that he did not construct the “addition” room where water intrusion occurred and that he timely responded to plaintiffs’ complaints. All defendants contended that there was no airborne mold spore contamination and no settled mold spore contamination. They contended that the mold did not cause plaintiffs’ illnesses or any of their property to have settled mold spore contamination. Defendants further claimed that plaintiffs could have moved out of the property earlier and therefore were comparatively at fault for their damages.

INJURIES: Plaintiffs’ symptoms ranged from generalized, non-specific flu-like symptoms to severe allergy-type symptoms, as well as fungal skin infections, hives, rashes, and breathing problems, among other symptoms.

SPECIALS IN EVIDENCE: MEDS: There were minimal medical expenses incurred by the Zachos family because they were uninsured. The combined out-of-pocket medical expenses for the family of four were $11,098.

JURY TRIAL: Length, three weeks; Deliberation, two days

SETTLEMENT DISCUSSIONS: Defendants made no offers of settlement for over three and a half years. Plaintiffs’ last offer just before trial was $550,000 as a global settlement demand with all defendants. Hendricks offered $7,000 to each plaintiff via CCP 998. The other defendants made no CCP 998 offers. Defendants’ best combined settlement offer during trial was $165,000.

RESULT: The jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs against all defendants, for $568,991, which resulted in a total judgment of $1,008,700 after the fees and costs award ($128,991 economic; $440,000 non-economic; $439,709 fees, costs and interest).

OTHER INFORMATION: Motions to tax costs and motion for attorney fees by plaintiffs.
FILING DATE: Feb. 28, 2007.