In Grandview at Riverwalk Port Imperial Condominium Association v. K. Hovnanian at Port Imperial, a Hudson County jury on June 1 awarded a $10 million construction defect verdict against a publicly traded developer and an architectural company.
The plaintiffs, condominium association members, claimed they learned after buying units in a six-story West New York development that the building was not code-compliant—and that the developer’s parent company, Hovnanian Enterprises, was aware of it.
The relevant building codes provide for five types of buildings, ranging from the most fire-resistant Type 1—often a skyscraper—to Type 5, which could be a wood-frame house, according to John Cottle of Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, who represented the plaintiffs, along with Matthew Meyers of the firm’s Morristown office, and others at the firm.
According to the suit, the Grandview I building on the Hudson River was initially conceived as a Type 2 building by the Hovnanian subsidiary, K. Hovnanian at Port Imperial Urban Renewal II, and architect RTKL New Jersey Architects. The architect allegedly warned the developer that the structure had plywood sub-flooring.
The plan was then to get the development reclassified as a Type 3, which would have allowed plywood, but which also would require masonry exterior walls that the building did not have. New plans were submitted to the town, but they were never approved, Cottle said.
The problem was first discovered in April 2015, and meeting minutes from November of that year showed the developer knew the plans to switch to Type 3 had not been approved, Cottle said.
But, the plaintiffs alleged, Hovnanian sought approval directly from the mayor’s office rather than the building department.
At trial before Hudson County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Jablonski, the defense argued the building was safe, and that the plywood flooring was not a life-safety issue, since fire alarms and exits would allow all residents to safely vacate the building in the event of a fire. But the plaintiffs contended that the plywood would still result in more property damage in the event of a fire.
The plaintiffs had to pierce the corporate veil, showing Hovnanian was responsible for its subsidiary’s actions, Cottle said. There were several tiers of companies between K. Hovnanian and its publicly traded parent, Cottle said. The plaintiffs persuaded the jury that Hovnanian Enterprises dominated and controlled the subsidiary, and used it to perpetrate an injustice.
The jury apportioned $3 million in damages to Hovnanian—which was trebled to $9 million under the state Consumer Fraud Act—and an additional $1 million against the architect.
Defense attorneys did not respond to requests for comment: Donald Taylor and Richard Byrnes of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge,; James Cardenas of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in New York; and Gary Chiumento of Chiumento McNally in Voorhees.
A case about Grandview II, a companion development, is scheduled to go to trial in January.
Jury Awards $1.8M for Bus Incident
Maison v. NJ Transit: An Essex County jury has awarded a New York woman $1.8 million as compensation for permanent injuries she sustained when someone threw a bottle at her head while she was riding on a NJ Transit bus.
The jury awarded the damages to plaintiff Anasia Maison, now 24, on June 14, after finding NJ Transit 100 percent liable, said her attorney, K. Raja Bhattacharya of Bendit Weinstock in West Orange
Maison was a passenger on the bus on July 22, 2013, in Newark, Bhattacharya said. There were four youths—none of whom were ever identified—who began harassing her. The youths got off the bus at one point, but before they exited, one threw a bottle at Maison, which struck her in the head.
Maison sustained an injury to the forehead which required 22 sutures, and which has left a permanent scar, Bhattacharya said.
The suit alleged that NJ Transit and its driver, Kelvin Coats, were negligent in that Coats did not stop the bus and order the youths off or call the police, Bhattacharya said.
NJ Transit was represented by Deputy Attorney General Gregory Sullivan. A spokesperson for the Department of Law and Public Safety’s Division of Law declined to comment.
Sidewalk Fall Nets $550K in Hudson
Andrisano v. Latin Lounge: A pedestrian who fell while walking over what she claimed were faulty basement doors settled her Hudson County for $550,000 on April 19.
In 2012, Antoinette Andrisano was walking with her boyfriend in Jersey City, near a bar called the Latin Lounge, when she got her foot caught on the establishment’s cellar doors in the sidewalk, said her lawyer, Steven Haddad of Haddad Law in Edison.
Andrisano, currently 45, claimed the doors were loose and in an unsafe condition; the suit named Mor-Ell Corp., which owned the property, Haddad said.
She allegedly sustained a minor foot injury and a spinal injury. The suit was filed in 2014, and in 2015, she was involved in a car accident, according to Haddad. The same year, she had a one-level fusion procedure at the cervical level, he said.
Mor-Ell contended that Andrisano’s spinal surgery was necessitated by the 2015 car accident, not the 2012 fall, Haddad said.
Mor-Ell Corp., insured by Global Indemnity, agreed to a $550,000 settlement, which was paid in May, according to Haddad.
Mor-Ell’s counsel, Anthony Accardi of Accardi & Mirda in East Hanover, did not return a call seeking comment on the case.