In Hawaii, premises liability issues often center around swimming pool accidents, shopping center falls or inadequate security in public areas. Another common issue causing dangerous property conditions is landlord negligence, and a recent lawsuit in another state could have a ripple effect, particularly for tenants of mobile homes throughout the country. Interestingly, the name of the mobile home park at the heart of the dispute is “California Hawaiian Mobile Estates.”
In early April 2014, a jury verdict in the failure-to-maintain case awarded each of the 61 tenants of a trailer park up to $1.57 million in punitive damages and around $100,000 in compensatory damages.
The trailer park is owned by Equity Lifestyle Properties, which is a publicly traded company that owns 379 properties representing 140,333 home sites throughout Canada and much of the U.S. According to reports, the $111 million award in the lawsuit represents approximately 10 percent of the company’s assets.
Five residents of the trailer park in question initiated the suit five years ago. The residents reported that they were tired of the company ignoring complaints about potholes, sewage backups, poor swimming pool conditions and electrical blackouts. Residents said that conditions were so bad that it was impossible to sell the mobile homes due to the park’s reputation.
Residents claimed that the park was pristine until Equity Lifestyle took over the property in 1997. Additional issues that arose after Equity Lifestyle took over included slime build-up on artificial lakes, inadequate street lighting, homeless people sleeping under the clubhouse and general disrepair in several areas. Residents also stated that water was frequently turned off for up to 20 hours at a time.
Luckily, no injuries appear to have occurred as a result of the shoddy property maintenance.
Equity Lifestyle has stated that it intends to appeal the verdict. If the verdict stands, it may set a precedent in liability cases against landlords of mobile home parks. Understanding the legal responsibilities of both landlords and tenants is the first step in deciding whether a premises liability lawsuit is viable.
Source: San Jose Mercury News, “Jury awards record $111 million to trailer park residents,” Tracey Kaplan, April 20, 2014