Jury awards San Jose trailer park residents $111 million in lawsuit
San Jose Mercury – With a fancy name like “California Hawaiian Mobile Estates,” the trailer park on Snell Avenue should have been top-notch.
But residents say that for years it was anything but — marred by sewage backups, potholes, electrical blackouts and a swimming pool filled with geese feces. Fed up with having their complaints ignored, a small group sued five years ago, risking the possibility that if they lost, they’d be on the hook for the park owner’s substantial legal fees.
Last week, a San Jose civil jury awarded the residents $111 million, the largest such award for a failure-to-maintain lawsuit against a mobile home park in California. Previous awards in other California cases topped out around $12 million. If the verdict stands, 61 tenants out of 1,500 people who live in the park could reap an average of $100,000 each in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages of $1.57 million apiece.
California Hawaiian Mobile Estates residents, Gela DePutter and Carol Johnson, right, walk through their neighborhood in San Jose, Calif. on Thursday, April 17, 2014. For years, residents of the mobile home park put up with electrical blackouts, overgrown trees that damaged homes, and a failure by the owner to maintain the park. This week, 61 residents of the park, including Johnson and DePutter, were awarded $111 million in a class action lawsuit brought against the owner of the mobile home park. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group) ( Gary Reyes )
The money would be quite a windfall for the tenants, many of whom live on limited incomes and say they cannot sell their mobile homes because the park has such a bad reputation.
“We always knew it was a David and Goliath thing, going up against a multibillion-dollar corporation,” said resident Joan Malone, 66, who helped spearhead the effort. “Now, people are coming up to me with their faces shining. We finally have justice.”
The unprecedented verdict has sent shock waves through the industry, even as the park’s owner vows to try to get it overturned. Equity Lifestyle Properties, a publicly traded company chaired by billionaire Sam Zell, is the largest mobile home park owner in the nation, with 140,333 home sites in 379 properties in 32 states and Canada. The award represents about 10 percent of its assets.
In the words of a one Jeffrey Lebowski, this is a very complicated case. You know a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.
On the one hand, you have a billionaire who has made literally mountains upon mountains of money for having probably dozens of mobile parks just like this that are probably just as run down as this place in San Jose. You start calculating the cost of repairs of each one of these places from goose shit to potholes, then yeah the cost of repairs is definitely in the millions. Guy got busted cutting costs for years and he should be held to the flame on it.
However, this is a trailer park, what were these people expecting? Sure it’s called “California Hawaiian Mobile Estates” but you couldn’t have been expecting a sandy beach with palm trees and a scenic view like Riggs from Lethal Weapon?
Definitely not. Although if you’re living right off the highway, the least ownership can do is make it somewhat habitable, I mean, for Christ’s sake it is a trailer park in San Jose which means I bet this guy was getting a ton of rent anyway.
Still, giving millions to people in trailer parks is like giving Semtex to a jihadist. I can only imagine what unbelievably absurd purchases will be made by these folks if this gets past this billionaire’s appeal. Blank check style.
Also, at least 4 of these winners will probably pass away in the first year after getting their cash. Mark it down.