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Charleston construction case nets $7.2M award

A Charleston County jury has slapped John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods with a $7.2 million verdict in a lawsuit that claimed 105 townhomes built by the company suffered from faulty construction and inferior craftsmanship.

The jury returned the verdict on Jan. 30, following a six-day trial.

John Hayes of the Hayes Law Firm in Charleston, who represented the plaintiffs in the case, said his clients were “pleased the jury recognized that big mistakes were made” in the development of the 105-unit Waverly at Hamlin Plantation community in Mount Pleasant.

“It’s not easy to sue a large company,” Hayes said. “But the jury recognized that when the companies won’t accept responsibility, you go to the court system to ensure homes built in Charleston are built right before they’re sold to the public.”

The plaintiffs’ legal team also included Keith McCarty and Mary-Margaret Noland, both of the Hayes Law Firm.

The community’s homeowners’ association sued John Wieland Homes in 2013, claiming that shoddy construction resulted in expensive repairs that shouldn’t have been necessary. A separate class action lawsuit filed on behalf of individual homeowners against the Atlanta-based homebuilder alleged the damage and subsequent repairs resulted in loss of use.

The lawsuits alleged the townhomes were sold to the general public despite numerous building code violations and defects in roofing, siding, structural beams and window installation, as well as rotting porch railings.

According to court records, John Wieland Homes built and sold townhomes in the between 2005 and 2009.The plaintiffs alleged that as the community’s developer and builder, along with its role as seller of the units, John Wieland Homes was responsible for the damage.

The company responded by saying the subcontractors it hired were ultimately responsible for the quality of the construction. John Wieland Homes countersued more than a dozen subcontractors it hired to work on the development.

The homeowners’ association added the subcontractors to its lawsuit as well. The subcontractors were dropped from the suit after reaching out-of-court settlements that required them to pay approximately $1.9 million. The court has approved about $300,000 of that amount, with the rest pending approval.

Hayes said that at trial, he and his co-counsel argued that South Carolina law mandates that homes must be in good repair before they can be sold to the public. Alternatively, developers can leave enough money to fix any problems that arise with the homeowners’ association.

To help make the point, the plaintiffs’ attorneys brought in John Freeman, professor emeritus of law at the University of South Carolina.

“Prof. Freeman did a very good job of explaining a developer’s duties to the jury—one of the best experts we’ve used in the 20-plus years I have been practicing,” Hayes said. “We’ve always felt it’s important to surround cases with the best experts we can.”

The plaintiffs’ experts also included an architect and an engineer.

The jury ultimately awarded $7 million to the homeowners’ association to cover the cost of repairs. An additional $200,000 was awarded to homeowners.

John Wieland Homes was represented by Theodore “Teddy” Manos of Robertson Hollingsworth Manos & Rahn in Charleston and Andy Haselden of Howser, Newman, & Besley in Charleston.

In an email, Manos said John Wieland is considering an appeal.

“The Plaintiffs claimed in excess of $20 Million Dollars, and the jury awarded them $7.2 Million Dollars  — approximately 35% of their claim amount,” Manos said. “We will not speculate as to the reasoning of the jury, but will simply let others draw their own conclusions.  For now, the litigation is pending, and an appeal is under consideration.”

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