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Sandra Bullock settles toxic tort case   PDF  Print  E-mail 
Posted by Susan Lillard  
Friday, 14 January 2005

Austin, Texas, September 19, 2004 ?  A $1.5 million price tag for a home by Hollywood standards is a modest sum; however, when that price tag soared to $6.5 million and the owner cannot live in the home, it becomes a nightmare and lawsuit. 

Amazingly, for the past month the Sandra Bullock history-making case against her builder, Benny Daneshjou of Daneshjou Construction, has been quietly unfolding in a small court room in Austin.  But for a few articles in the Austin Statesman, and the San Antonio Express News, the case has received little attention.  

Even more amazing is that instead of the stars? fans filling the courtroom, other unhappy homeowners with homes built by Benny Daneshjou are testifying about their identical and dreadful experiences ? cost overruns, shocking overcharges, deadlines ignored, months turning into years, defectively constructed homes and devastating disappointments. 

These have been bad days for Benny Daneshjou, who apparently has a long list of unhappy customers with multimillion dollar defective homes in the Austin area.  One cannot help but wonder why he sits in the courtroom so confident and defiant with laughter at unhappy customers who give such damaging testimony, or experts that describe a roof installed in the wrong direction and other outrageous construction defects.  Could it be because this is Texas, where builder confidence is extraordinarily high due to tort reforms, binding arbitration, lack of regulation of the building industry, and a long track record of not being held accountable?

  Those who attend soon forget that this story is about Sandra Bullock, the star, as she sits quietly with her devoted father by her side through the exhausting hours, day after day.  I have personally wondered how she and her father manage to control their emotions as the $6.5 million home is vividly described as defective and non-compliant with standards.  

Expert witness Clark Griffin, an architect from Boston, illustrated the defective roof framing and described in a video the water intrusion through the chimneys, the balcony, leaks in all the windows and doors, and the roof caused by either defective flashing or no flashing at all.  Griffin went on to describe what he termed as ?an incredible amount of water intrusion,? due to lack of flashing, defectively installed rock work, stucco and roofing materials causing damage to framing, rotting OSB board used as sheathing, and the presence of toxic stachybotrus mold. 

It has been series of exhausting days for the 12 jurors and one alternative, who listen attentively to witnesses who one by one struggled with words to describe framing defects in the photos.  Finally, in describing roofing framing, one expert simply said, ?I?m not quite sure how to describe this one ? I?ll just let the photo speak for itself.?  He continued with photos showing roof bracing installed in the wrong direction and the standing metal roofing that had been installed sideways.  The same expert pointed out examples of extensive non-compliance with Austin minimum building codes in framing such as missing fire blocking, and an area where a three-foot piece of a second story floor support component was indiscriminately cut out. 

The highlight of that day came when the Daneshjou attorney aggressively argued that his client (the builder) did not have to build to any higher standard than minimum standards, even for a $6.5 million home. 

Because of Binding Arbitration in builder contracts for the past ten years, literally tens of thousands of homeowners with defective homes have never seen the inside of a courtroom to have their grievances heard and in hopes of holding a bad builder accountable.  Now, for the first time in many years, one victim of a bad homebuilder is finally being heard. 

Sandra Bullock has been fortunate in her life in more ways than one.  She is fortunate that she has the resolve and the financial means to stand up to her builder.  She is also fortunate that she did not have a binding arbitration clause in her contract and now has the opportunity to hold the builder accountable in a court of law.

Throughout this trial I am struck by the fact that she obviously had the ability and could have spared herself and her father from this grueling event, but instead has demonstrated her tenacity throughout this trial to see it to the end, even at personal sacrifice.  She is painfully proving that despite the opportunities life has afforded her, it does not give anyone the right to defraud her or deny her a day in court. 

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