Homeowners win millions – Arbitration panel awards $2.1 million for faulty construction

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A three-member arbitration panel has ruled in favor of 24 Shelby County homeowners who alleged faulty construction and site planning for their homes.

The $2.1 million verdict against Inverness-based American Homes and Land came three-and-a-half years after homeowners first filed suit in Shelby County Circuit Court. The ruling came last week.

Most of the plaintiffs were first-time homeowners, according to their attorney Andrew Campbell.

&uot;It turned out to be a nightmare,&uot; he said of their purchases. &uot;The ones who have tried to sell their homes have not been able to do so.&uot;

American served as general contractors for the construction.

The three arbitrators included one person chosen by the plaintiffs, one chosen by the defendant and another who was independently selected. Their decision was unanimous.

&uot;The panel has unanimously concluded that the plaintiffs have met their burden of proof, and adduced substantial evidence that convinces the panel that the plaintiffs are entitled to a monetary award of damages,&uot; the ruling stated.

All 24 homes, which are about five years old, are located in the Thornberry subdivision, adjacent to Spain Park High School.

There are about 64 homes in the subdivision, and the average cost per home is some $200,000.

Plaintiffs had alleged &uot;fraud, fraudulent concealment, suppression, breach of contract, breach of warranty, willful wanton and negligent conspiracy.&uot;

According to the plaintiffs, there were numerous structural problems, including cracked foundations, poor drainage, slope failure and differential settling.

According to the complaint, plaintiffs &uot;have suffered significant structural damage to their homes as a result of negligent and faulty home construction, as well as negligent and faulty preparation from a lack of surface water drainage.&uot;

A complaint filed in November 2003 by the plaintiffs stated they were not made aware of findings from an engineering company that surveyed the site.

Plaintiffs also stated they suffered &uot;substantial losses,&uot; and sued for compensatory and punitive damages plus interest, along with court costs and attorney fees.

American Homes and Land denied responsibility for any wrongdoing, stating it did not breach any limited home warranty. However, the panel ruled strongly in favor of the defendants.

The homeowners will receive between $10,000 and $200,000 each, depending on the amount of damage. Eight homeowners will receive at least $100,000.

According to plaintiffs’ attorney Wendy Tunstill, at least some of the homeowners will likely use the money to make repairs to their current home. Others could leave.

Shelby County Department of Development Services inspectors checked the homes before they received final approval, but the department was not mentioned in the suit.

&uot;Our inspectors did their jobs on the project,&uot; Director of Development Services Ray Hamilton said. &uot;Our inspectors do a good job consistently.&uot;

Gary Thomas of American Homes and Lands did not wish to comment when contacted.

According to the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders, American is one of the largest developers in the Birmingham area.

According to Hamilton, they have been or are involved in several projects across central Alabama, including Old Cahaba in Helena.