Lowell Condo Owners Win $1.4M in Lawsuit
LOWELL -- The owners of condominiums built on the contaminated site of a former city dump on Willard Street are poised to collectively receive more than $1.4 million from the city.
A Lowell Superior Court jury ruled that the city is responsible for $1,419,550 in environmental damages for the 36 current and former owners of the Grand Manor Condominium Association.
In addition to these damages, the owners are also set to receive substantial interest -- 12 percent of the $1.4 million, which is $170,346, multiplied by five years for the lawsuit’s duration. That’s estimated at $851,730 in total interest.
Between the environmental damages and interest, the city could soon have a hefty legal bill in excess of $2 million, pending an appeal.
In 2016, the city thought it was in the clear when it won the lawsuit filed by the condo owners. The jury then determined the three-year statute of limitations for claims in the case had expired.
But earlier this year, the Supreme Judicial Court overturned that judgment, reviving the lawsuit.
Attorney Brian Hurley, who with Stacie Kosinski represents the Grand Manor Condominium Association, said the owners were “very happy” with the jury verdict last month.
“The jury in the case carefully analyzed the evidence presented to them, and arrived at what they thought was a fair and just amount,” Hurley said.
The owners were seeking damages north of $2 million.
The $1.4 million jury judgment broke down to $1,040,665 for the 24 current owners, and $378,885 for the 12 former owners.
The split for the 24 current owners is $43,361 each. The split for the 12 former owners is $31,573 each.
Lowell City Solicitor Christine O’Connor said the city is still reviewing the matter, and plans on filing motions related to the case soon.
“In the upcoming week, we’ll be in a better position to describe the city’s next steps in this matter,” she said.
The city has a right to appeal the decision.
Following the city’s victory in 2016, O’Connor said a judgment in the plaintiff’s favor could have cost the city up to $5 million.
The city acquired the land involved in the case in 1906, and initially used it as a quarry for mining rock and gravel.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the areas that were excavated while the site was a quarry were used as a landfill for tires, leather waste products, batteries, bottles, and containers of liquid.
The landfill was eventually covered and the site then went unused until 1983, when the city sold it to a real estate developer, who built the Grand Manor Condominium complex in 1985.
Residents of the complex, which is located on Willard Street near the Dracut town line, lived there for over two decades without knowing they were on top of a former landfill.
Contamination at the site was discovered in early 2009, when contractors digging to install a drainage system discovered discolored soil and debris. Testing conducted as a result revealed the presence of hazardous chemicals, including arsenic and lead.
In the wake of that discovery, the value of the condos plummeted, according to lawyers for the owners. At trial in 2016, the plaintiffs claimed the discovery of the contamination reduced the value of their condominiums by about $79,000 per condo.
According to the city assessor’s website, the current assessment for the condo units in the 800-square-foot range is approximately $70,000.
Condo owners sued in 2012 after learning that contamination at the site could never be fully remediated.
But the city argued the statute of limitations for their claims had already expired, since the condominium association learned about contamination at the site in early 2009. The city argued, and cited case law, that the clock on the statute of limitations started ticking as soon as the contamination was discovered.
A jury accepted the city’s argument in 2016, but then the Supreme Judicial Court ruled earlier this year that the statute of limitations didn’t start to expire until owners learned the damage was permanent on June 6, 2012.
At the 2016 trial, the city was found liable for $114,000 in costs for cleaning up hazardous materials unearthed by the installation of the drainage system on the site. And the city also agreed to clean up hazardous material at the site as much as possible. That cleanup effort cost about $354,000 as of last year.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.