JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—Testimony continued Friday in a landmark construction defect trial. DR Horton, America’s largest homebuilder, has been sued by the condo owners association at Heron’s Landing, a 240-unit development on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville.
Homeowners say the developer built structurally deficient homes that violate Florida’s building code. They are seeking $9 million to repair the buildings.
At the start of the trial, lawyers joked with jurors that they would spend the next 30 days talking about stucco. That topic was the focus this week, as the six jurors and three alternates sat through hours of complicated and often technical testimony.
The last three days of trial featured plaintiff witness Ron Wood, a Jacksonville based structural engineer. He inspected the stucco at Heron’s Landing and testified that it was incorrectly mixed, insufficiently thick, and improperly applied – in some cases, layered directly on Styrofoam.
He also showed the jury large chunks of wall removed from the buildings that he said showed water intrusion and corrosion.
Asked by plaintiff attorney Barry Ansbacher what portion of his stucco tests at Heron’s Landing showed problems, he said “just about 100 percent.”
DR Horton attorneys previously noted that Woods sampled only a fraction of the stucco at the development. They also noted all buildings passed inspection and were certified by the city of Jacksonville. Company attorneys won’t begin their cross examination of Woods until Monday.
Residents of Heron’s Landing testified earlier this week about problems at the development. Christina Bentley told the jury about mold, soundproofing issues, and plumbing leaks.
“We could hear people walking, we could hear them going to the bathroom, we could hear water flushing through the pipes,” she said. As a member of the condo association board, she said she found the number of building flaws mystifying. “It’s a relatively new property why are we having as many roof leaks as we’re having? Why are there window leaks? Why are there plumbing leaks from ceilings?”
DR Horton has not commented about this case – an exceedingly rare one, since construction defect cases are typically handled in secret arbitration proceedings. Their lead attorney, Robert Carlson, said the company was in the process of preparing a statement, but First Coast News has not yet received it.
This trial portion of the case was initially projected to last four weeks, but that time frame may shrink. Two additional defendants – subcontractors who were brought into the case when they were sued by DR Horton – Friday said they would waive their right to a jury trial, and put their fate in the judge’s hands. Circuit Judge Jim Daniel appeared to welcome the news, since it will eliminate the need for complicated jury instructions. But the timing presents a new set of issues, since the defendants already participated in jury selection, and their lawyers have questioned several witnesses.
It’s not yet clear if Judge Daniel will allow the two defendants to continue to participate in the presence of the jury.
Update: On Saturday, First Coast News received the following statement from DR Horton:
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.
(A spokesperson declined an on camera interview, writing, "Our company policy is to respond to all media inquiries in writing.")