A jury decided today that the owners of Friendly Village Mobile Home Park in North Long Beach should pay out $34 million in punitive damages, in addition to $5.5 million awarded last week, to residents of the park who sued over decaying conditions that included methane gas leaks and continually sinking ground.
The jury awarded the punitive damages for negligence, unfair business practices, retaliatory eviction and financial elder abuse. Lead attorney Brian Kabateck said the residents lived in squalor at the property that was once a trash dump for the city of Long Beach.
“This is an outstanding outcome,” Kabateck said Tuesday. “What we really hoped for is that justice would be done.”
He said this case, which involves 31 families, is the first suit. The law firm plans to file another lawsuit on behalf of 120 families who live in the 182-unit park, which is just south of Davenport Park on Paramount Boulevard.
An attorney for the owners and managers of the park, Friendly Village MHP Associates, Sierra Corporate Management and Kort & Scott Financial Group, could not be reached for comment. It was not clear whether they plan to appeal Tuesday’s decision.
The owners of Friendly Village failed to make repairs or ignored notices about health hazards while raising rents by hundreds of dollars, residents previously told the Long Beach Post.
The lawsuit said the land is constantly shifting, causing electrical problems and structural damage to units.
The park was purchased in 1970 and developed by Boise Cascade Development Company, which acknowledged in its purchase agreement that there is a potential for “differential and settlement” of the land.
Any subsequent owners, the agreement said, would be responsible for maintaining vents designed to allow methane gas to safely escape from the ground, and it noted that the property would have to be periodically leveled and resurfaced.
In 2013, the county public health agency found methane levels near trash bins at the park were near “explosive levels.” In 2016, the state later recommended excavating the underground landfill to relieve pressure from the gas.
In October, the company that owns the park, Friendly Village MHP Associates, filed for bankruptcy, but a judge ruled the civil trial could still proceed.
Kabateck said the bulk of the judgement was against Kort & Scott, which own a number of mobile home parks across the state.
The attorney for the plaintiffs said the goal was always to get enough money for each resident to move on to a new home.
“There’s no choice,” he said. “People are going to have to leave.”