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Judgment Day

Judgment Day

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    Joe Ferrentino, attorney with Newmeyer & Dillon

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    Michael Turner, attorney with Kasdan Simonds

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    Judge David C. Velasquez

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    William Ingalsbe, attorney with Monteleone and McCrory

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    Concrete has deteriorated due to sulfate attack.

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    Left: Batchman Richard Bowman (left) talks with Tim Toland, president of National Ready Mixed Concrete Co., at its plant in Van Nuys, Calif.

The California law firm Kasdan Simonds Vaughan & Riley specializes in construction defect lawsuits. In 1994, it pioneered sulfate attack litigation by adding it to the list of defects alleged in a suit on behalf of five high-end homes in Yorba Linda, Calif.

In Emery v. Brighton Estates, the Kasdan attorneys argued that the concrete did not conform to the Uniform Building Code, the soils had tested positive for severe sulfates in some of the lots, and therefore, the concrete had to be ripped out and replaced. The case was settled out of court for $630,000 per home, higher than the original purchase prices in some cases.

Sulfate litigation then spread throughout the state, with most cases settled out of court. Construction defect suits have resulted in settlements worth “many millions of dollars” for their clients, according to Kasdan Simonds' Web site. Adding in attorneys' fees and experts' fees, “a couple of billion dollars have changed hands in the last few years,” says Ingalsbe.

Kasdan Simonds won a jury trial based largely on sulfate attack for the first time in 1998 in Orange County, resulting in a $1.75 million judgment. Only three suits before Castron went through trial to a judgment. The plaintiffs won them all.

Kasdan Simonds became a leading force in construction defect suits in California. They issued press releases with headlines like, “GOT ANY CONCRETE PROBLEMS?” and “DEFECTIVE CONSTRUCTION OF YOUR HOME: DON'T PUT UP WITH IT!” They also advertised in newspapers and magazines.

Apparently, they also did direct advertising, which is how Castron began. In 2000, homeowners in Mission Viejo received mass mailings from Kasdan Simonds. “The letters informed them of defects in their houses, and encouraged them to contact the firm,” says Ingalsbe. “If they didn't respond to the first letter, they got a second letter, and even a third letter.”

Eleven homeowners, including the Castrons, filed suit. The developer, Fieldstone Pacific, was named a primary defendant.

The complaint

The homeowners “saw efflorescence and fretting of the concrete,” says Michael Turner, the Kasdan Simonds attorney who took the case to trial. They approached the developer with their complaints. Turner adds that Fieldstone began replacing some of the concrete and then stopped. The homeowners then filed suit.

Joe Ferrentino, the attorney with Newmeyer & Dillion who represented Fieldstone Pacific and has battled Kasdan Simonds in almost 20 cases, says homeowners called the attorneys because they had window and roof leaks. “I have not seen one case where a homeowner was concerned about their concrete until they met Mr. Kasdan's firm,” he says. Fieldstone did not replace any concrete, he adds.

Indeed, the lawsuit alleged a wide range of defects. This appears to be a personal cause for Kasdan Simonds attorney Barry Vaughan, who is eloquent about the quality of modern construction. When he describes being a boy in California and watching the first mass-produced homes being built, one senses a feeling of loss, perhaps even betrayal, at the changes wrought by the post-World War II building boom.