A Connecticut Superior Court judge has ruled that a contractor performed shoddy work on a North Stonington man’s home and has ordered the contractor to pay a $100,173 judgment. The judge also found that the contractor violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, or CUTPA, and, because of that, must pay the homeowner an additional $100,000 in attorney fees.
In his Aug. 21 ruling, New London Superior Court Judge Matthew Frechette sided with Lee Winakor who claimed Vincent Savalle violated breach of contract, two provisions within the Home Improvement Act of the Connecticut General Statutes; and violated CUTPA. Winakor claimed the numerous improprieties with the work done on his property ranged from Savalle apparently using large rocks and boulders instead of dirt to support the foundation to improperly installing the septic system because it was backfilled with rocks instead of sand and was too close to the surface, making it more likely it could be crushed—which, in fact, occurred.
With regard to breach of contract, the judge wrote in his ruling: “In the present case, the court finds that the plaintiff, by a preponderance of the evidence, proved this claim. There were multiple contracts signed by the plaintiff and defendant … the plaintiff continually paid the defendant for his work and breach of the agreement by the defendant in not completing the project on time.”
In total, Winakor laid out about $53,000 of his own money, according to Paul Geraghty, his New London-based attorney. About $49,000 in corrective damages was done and, eventually, a new contractor had to come in and finish the job, said Geraghty, a partner with Geraghty & Bonnano.
Both Winakor and Savalle testified during the nine-day bench trial in front of Frechette.
“I believe the judge found that Mr. Savalle was not a credible witness,” Geraghty told the Connecticut Law Tribune on Monday. “For instance, he testified at one point that, when removing a septic tank, he tried to claim that people were using the system for a year and that just can’t be true. It was not true because there was no way for sewage to get from the house to the tank at that time.”
One bone of contention during trial was whether there was ever a signed contract. Winakor claimed that, since Savalle would not write up a contract, he wrote one up and both parties signed on to it.
But during trial, Savalle said he did not sign any contract about six years ago. “The defendant’s attorney hired a handwriting expert to try to support Savalle’s claim that he did not sign the documents,” Geraghty said. “The handwriting expert, though, concluded that he did sign them. That was their own expert. They did not call him at trial, but we did,”
“He [Savalle] brazenly testified that he does not use contracts. He had a total disregard for the law,” Geraghty said.
Savalle was represented by Frank Liberty, a New London-based solo practitioner. Liberty did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
In court filings, though, Savalle disputed most of the claims against him.
In the court papers, Savalle denied he agreed to do the work for $50,000 or less; denied that during the course of construction he improperly installed septic galleys which resulted in them becoming filled with mud and having to be replaced; denied driving heavy equipment over the septic system after installation and crushing the holding tank, which necessitated in its having to be replaced; and denied signing an agreement and agreeing to a completion date.
The defense has until Sept. 10 to appeal the judge’s ruling to the Connecticut Appellate Court. Geraghty said the defense, headed by Liberty, has filed motions for an extension of time. If the legal process plays out and the judge’s ruling stands, collecting the money could be an issue, Geraghty said,
Savalle, Geraghty noted, was uninsured.
“We’d have to go after him personally,” Geraghty said. “He has a lot of equipment which could be auctioned off. We could get the money that way. We are reasonably confident we will get the money.”
In addition, Geraghty said, “we will probably go after him” with regard to getting Savalle’s home improvement license revoked by the state Department of Consumer Protection.