Incomplete record, trial judge's retirement costs homeowner victory over allegedly defective windows

By Carrie Salls | Mar 2, 2017

HARRISBURG – The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has vacated a judgment awarded in favor of a homeowner whose house was damaged as a result of allegedly faulty windows because a lower court was ultimately unable to explain its ruling and the lower court judge had retired after hearing the case.

Leo J. Dolan Jr. filed a complaint in September 2005 against Bentley Homes, Ltd., Garvin Mitchell Corp., Chadwell Associates, LP, Chadwell Realty, Inc., Harrison Community Association and Hurd Millwork Co., Inc., alleging that the home he and then-wife Cheri M. Dolan purchased in 2000 “developed substantial defects including air and water leaks around the windows.”

In April 2001, Hurd Millwork had sued the other defendants for unpaid invoices related to the construction of Dolan’s home and others in the same community. A counterclaim was filed against Hurd Millwork by the other defendants named in Dolan’s lawsuit, alleging that Hurd provided defective windows.

Hurd Millwork and the other Dolan defendants reached a settlement in October 2002, “which contained specific admissions that numerous homes in the development, including (Dolan’s) home, suffered from extensive defects and leaks,” according to the Superior Court ruling.

While the litigation between Hurd and the other Dolan defendants was pending, the Superior Court said Dolan “experienced numerous additional problems with the home, including severe air and water leaks, rotted wood and issues with the stucco wall.”

The non-Hurd defendants attempted to fix some of the damage done to Dolan’s home, but the problems got progressively worse. Ultimately, the court said, Dolan hired a civil engineer to address the issues. The total cost of repairs was $826,695.99.

In response to Dolan’s complaint, the other defendants filed a cross-claim against Hurd, alleging that Hurd was “solely or jointly liable for (Dolan’s) injuries.” Hurd filed a similar counterclaim against the other defendants.

According to the Superior Court ruling, Dolan eventually entered a settlement with Hurd.

The remaining claims went to trial in January 2015. On June 18, 2015, the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County awarded Dolan $500,000 in damages. The judgment was later increased to $748,287.67, reflecting delay damages granted on Aug. 21, 2015.

The Superior Court remanded the case back to the lower court in January, ordering the Court of Common Pleas to issue a supplement to its original “conclusory three-page opinion” by providing more details on the basis of its ruling and addressing the cross-claims.

“The court’s decision did not explain which of (Dolan’s) claims warranted relief; whether the damages award included a punitive damages component; or whether the court ruled in favor or against appellants on their cross-claim against Hurd Millwork,” the Superior Court specified in the ruling.

In addition, the Superior Court said the lower court denied a motion for post-trial relief in August 2015 “without any explanation,” and eventually issued a three-page opinion after the appellants requested more information.

Following its order requiring the lower court to issue a more detailed ruling, the Superior Court said it was informed that “the trial judge had retired; and no one currently on the bench could prepare the supplemental opinion as ordered.”

Because of the lack of information, the Superior Court vacated the judgment and sent the case back to the lower court for a new trial.

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Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Superior Court of Pennsylvania

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