A Ventura County jury has ruled that a soil consultant must pay $710,000 to the owners of five Simi Valley homes for deliberately concealing that the houses were built atop a garbage dump.
The jury, which returned its decision Tuesday after a week of deliberation, ordered Van Nuys-based RSA Associates Inc. to pay the damages.
Another defendant in the suit, developer Larwin Southern California Inc., settled with the homeowners during the trial, agreeing to pay them $460,000.
The Superior Court jury found that the houses of the plaintiffs were severely damaged because buried garbage had decomposed, causing foundations to shift and sink.
Mike DiLando, an attorney for the homeowners, said the jury assessed $310,000 for the homeowners' emotional distress.
Attorney Robert W. Denton, who is representing RSA Associates, said his client is considering an appeal.
The homeowners listed in the jury's decision are Nina and Bodhdan Obuch, Doyle and Patricia Boatwright, Bahauddin and Kamellah Durrani, Sheldon Kay and Robert and Betty McBride. The jury did not find sufficient evidence to support the claim of homeowners Ronald and Linda Hoglund. Two other plaintiffs, Boris and Elaine Pribich, settled with the developer and the soil consultant before the trial, which began in March.
The jury could not agree on whether C. A. Rasmussen, the Simi Valley-based grading contractor for the housing tract where the plaintiffs' homes are located, should also be held liable. The panel deadlocked 8 to 4 in favor of the homeowners on that point, DiLando said.
He said his clients plan to refile a lawsuit against Rasmussen.
The legal battle began five years ago when the homeowners filed suit against the developer and the subcontractors who built their houses. The houses in the 1100 block of North Currier Avenue were constructed in 1970 as part of a larger tract. Residences in the well-tended, middle-class neighborhood have been appraised at from $200,000 to $230,000, according to officials at the Simi Valley-Moorpark Board of Realtors.
The plaintiffs contended in their lawsuit that the area where their houses were built was formerly a ravine used by nearby farmers as a dumping ground.
A soils expert hired by the homeowners found metal pipe, bricks, plastic and glass bottles, aluminum cans, barbed wire and various farm implements buried 10 to 15 feet below the plaintiffs' houses.
Mark Herskovitz, another attorney for the homeowners, said the developer and subcontractors were required by law to have all debris removed before starting to build. Instead, he said, the trash was covered with a thin layer of topsoil on which the houses were built.
Over the years, some of the trash decomposed, resulting in shifting and sinking foundations that have caused major structural damage, he said. The damage has ranged from separating walls to cracked slabs and sloping floors.
Denton said his client never denied that debris was found under some of the houses. However, he said the soil consultant was unaware of the existence of the debris and so should not be held responsible for the damage that resulted.
"There was no kind of cover-up . . . .," he said.
The homeowners' suit also named the city of Simi Valley and the Simi Valley Unified School District as defendants. The city, which the homeowners said was partly responsible because it issued permits for grading and construction, settled with the homeowners for $36,500 before the trial began.
Judge Robert Shaw ruled early in the trial that the school district did not contribute to the deterioration of the homes by refusing to rechannel a nearby drainage ditch. An attorney for the district had argued that the ditch and the school that it serves were there years before the housing tract.
It has not been decided how much money each homeowner will receive.