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True Grit: After 10 Years, Texas Couple Wins $58M in Home Defects Case

Bob and Jane Cull of Mansfield, Texas, saw the light at the end of a long legal tunnel on March 2nd. On that day, the jury in their case against powerful home builders, Perry Homes, came back with an award in favor of the stubborn plaintiffs: $58 million. That may seem like an over-payment for a home defects case involving repairs on a house that only cost the couple $234,000 when they purchased it, but consider what they had to go through to get there.

As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, the Culls originally brought their suit in an attempt to get Perry Homes to fix structural and foundation problems that started shortly after they moved into their 2,900-square-foot, four-bedroom house in 1996. Shortly after moving in, the couple noticed cracks appearing in the walls, and doors and windows that stuck shut. Their Perry Homes rep told them the house was "settling." Then the Culls discovered a drainpipe that was broken during construction of the house had soaked a kitchen wall, requiring them to move out for months while mold that resulted was removed.

After years of enduring a "settling" house, the Culls filed suit in 2000, and then asked a judge to send their case to arbitration. Perry appealed the switch and lost. The case was then heard by the arbitrator, who award the Culls $800,255. Perry Homes appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. This time they won. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found for the defendants and sent the case back to a trial court. The Star-Telegram writes that Perry Homes owner, Bob Perry, is a major contributor to judicial candidates and political action committees in the state of Texas.

The second trial for the Culls began on February 3 and ended last week with the verdict in their favor. Actual damages awarded totaled $7.1 million. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $40 million in punitive damages against Perry Homes. The jury also awarded $7.1 million in actual damages and $4 million in punitive damages against co-defendants Warranty Underwriters. A judge must still approve the verdict.

Consumer advocates applauded the jury verdict. "Perry thought he could simply wear out the Culls by dragging them through appeal after appeal," wrote Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch. "He underestimated the resolve of individuals who know their cause is right and just. The jury's decision sends a clear message that the influence of [political action committee] contributions and high-dollar lobbyists have not yet crept into the jury box."

The Culls are still living in their house even though repairs were never made and the house continues to "settle." For years, they could only afford to patch the cracks, but they are not going anywhere and they are not backing down from a threatened appeal by Perry Homes.

"We're not going away," Bob Cull said. "You just have to have that gritty resolve."

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