Jury awards Kihei couple $1.7 million in disability lawsuit

Villas at Kenolio condo AOAO fined owners $200 a day in carpeting dispute

The Villas of Kenolio Association of Apartment Owners lost a disability discrimination lawsuit to a unit owner. A 2nd Circuit Court jury returned a $1.7 million judgment in favor of the unit owners. This photo was taken Thursday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A 2nd Circuit Court jury awarded a $1.7 million judgment to a Kihei couple in a disability discrimination lawsuit against their condo association over uncarpeted floors in their unit, $170,000 in fines levied for those floors and an attempt to have the unit sold in foreclosure, the couple’s attorney said Wednesday.

Plaintiffs Gregory and Michele White received the verdicts in their favor from the jury Tuesday in their lawsuit against the Villas at Kenolio Association of Apartment Owners. Of the award, $170,000 was for punitive damages. The jury deliberated for about four hours before rendering its verdict.

The amount was what they asked for from the jury, said plaintiff’s attorney Eric Ferrer in an email Wednesday.

“Condo associations wield a great deal of power over their owners,” he said. “When they can issue fines like this and attempt to sell an owner’s home at a nonjudicial foreclosure, without giving the owner an opportunity to contest the fines as required by the bylaws as occurred here, they can literally steal an owner’s home while depriving them of their civil rights.

“This case sends a message to all condo associations that they cannot treat their owners, with or without a disability, in this way.”

Mr. White has been blind in his left eye since birth and began having right eye problems as well, Ferrer said. His vision is especially impaired in low lighting.

He installed wood floors in place of carpeting in his second-floor unit to help him safely move around his home, he said. The dark floor color contrasts with the white walls enabling him to make out boundaries. The ability to feel the wood floor and the sound of steps provide further guidance when walking, said Ferrer.

The condo rules require second-floor units to have carpeting to prevent noise in downstairs units so the Whites sought an exception due to Mr. White’s disability in 2014. The association denied the request, despite later receiving medical information about the disability.

The association fined the Whites $200 per day for the violations. It would total $170,000 — the amount of the punitive damages — for 850 days.

In January 2015, the association scheduled to sell the Whites’ unit at a foreclosure auction, Ferrer said. The action was blocked when the Whites filed a complaint in court.

The case finally went to trial in Judge Peter Cahill’s court on July 2. On Tuesday, the jury returned all claims in favor of the Whites, deciding that Mr. White had a disability and that the Whites requested a reasonable accommodation from the association.

Attempts to reach the association’s attorney Wednesday were unsuccessful.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com. This story published Friday, July 20, 2018, has been corrected.

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