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    Post: Jury awards $58 million to Mansfield couple in home builder

    Posted by Sharon on 3/03/10

    Jury awards $58 million to Mansfield couple in home builder
    Posted Tuesday, Mar. 02, 2010
    By Sandra Baker

    A Mansfield couple's nearly decadelong legal battle with
    their home builder, Perry Homes, and a home warranty
    company took another step toward closure Monday when a
    Tarrant County jury awarded them $58 million in damages.

    But on Tuesday, Bob and Jane Cull say, they woke up like it
    was any other day.

    Jane Cull went to her job at a hospital company, and Bob
    Cull, who is retired, said he started tending to some
    personal business that had been put off for several months
    as their case came to trial. They also realize that their
    lawsuit, which has been arbitrated, been appealed and twice
    gone to

    the Texas Supreme Court, still has some hurdles to clear
    before they see any money.

    "Who knows?" Bob Cull said. "You certainly can't plan on
    it. We're hopeful."

    Anthony Holm, a Perry Homes spokesman, in a statement
    called the verdict "jackpot justice" and an abuse of the
    legal system. Perry Homes offered to buy the home back at
    full price, he said.

    The verdict, Holm said, "is equivalent to every single
    resident in Texas depositing $2 into the lawyer's bank

    Perry Homes may appeal the decision, he said.

    Van Shaw, the couple's attorney, said justice was served.

    "I thought it was a fair verdict," he said.

    Bob Cull describes the couple's legal fight as an "odyssey."

    The Culls filed suit in December 2000 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 near Walnut Creek Country Club in

    The case became politically charged as it moved through the
    judicial process. Perry Homes is owned by Bob Perry, who
    has contributed heavily to judicial candidates and
    political action committees in Texas.

    Warranty Underwriters Insurance Co. in Houston is also a

    "It became more of a mission and less about the home," Cull
    said. "We're still in that battle."

    Problems, then arbitration

    The house, which the Culls bought for nearly $234,000, is
    the only new home they have ever lived in. They bought it
    for their retirement, moving after 25 years from an 1,800-
    square-foot home in Arlington where they raised their three

    The couple moved into the house in October 1996, and the
    problems became apparent by the next January. Cull said
    Tuesday that at the time, their Perry Homes representative
    said the house was just settling.

    "We trusted him," Cull said.

    The cracks, though, kept appearing in their walls, and
    doors and windows jammed shut. They also discovered that a
    drainpipe that was punctured during construction had soaked
    a kitchen wall, requiring them to move out for several
    months while mold was removed.

    After initially filing their lawsuit in court, the couple
    in late 2001 asked a judge to instead submit their case to
    arbitration, which was done. Perry Homes appealed the
    switch, but lost. In 2002, an arbitrator awarded the couple

    Perry Homes appealed the award to the Texas Supreme Court.
    In 2008, the court vacated that award in a 5-4 decision,
    citing legal issues with the way the case was switched from
    the courts to arbitration, and sent it back to the trial

    That trial began Feb. 3 in state district court in Tarrant
    County. Several dozen witnesses testified, and the jury
    deliberated Friday and Monday before reaching its verdict.
    The judge still needs to approve the jury verdict.

    The Culls were awarded $7.1 million in actual damages and
    $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 Warranty Underwriters.

    Consumer groups applaud

    The jury's decision was praised by Texas consumer groups.

    "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," Winslow said. "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."

    Janet Ahmad, president of HomeOwners for Better Building,
    based in San Antonio, said the Culls have been vindicated.

    "Until Texas lawmakers pass legislation to regulate and
    license the building industry, powerful tycoons like Bob
    Perry have no incentive to build homes right the first time
    or treat their customer with respect or stand behind the
    homes they build," she said in a prepared statement.

    Repairs still needed

    The Culls have never moved from the house, even though the
    structural problems have never been addressed and the
    foundation still moves, Bob Cull said. He said he and his
    wife have the resources only to patch and paint over the

    But he said they don't want others to go through what they
    have, and they have no plans to back down now.

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

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