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Appellate Court Upholds $23 Million Judgment Against Contractor in Santa Monica Homeowner Case  

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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

March 20, 2017 -- A California Court of Appeal panel has upheld a jury’s decision to award more than $23 million to an autistic woman who says a contractor took advantage of her and her now deceased mentally ill brother and nearly sold their Santa Monica home for his own benefit.

“This appellate decision affirmed the 2014 judgment that sent a very strong message with the $23 million award to would-be fraudsters looking to prey upon the disadvantaged and the elderly,” attorney Joseph Girard from LA Elder Law, who represented the plaintiffs said in a statement.

The appellate panel rejected the arguments from contractor Noam Bouzaglou and his company Ness Adams Inc. that alleged the jury’s award was excessive, among other reasons for the challenge.

Bouzaglou and Ness had shown “reckless disregard” for the health and safety of Kathleen McGinty, wrote Judge Victora Chavez, who wrote the opinion.

The other two judges on the panel agreed with her in the unanimous decision.

The case dates back to 2010 when, according to court documents, the City of Santa Monica red-tagged the garage of a home on Hill Street in Sunset Park for being “dangerous and non-compliant with standards for occupancy.”

The owner of the home was Tim McGinty, who had suffered for years from bipolar disorder, depression and substance abuse. He lived in the home with his autistic sister Kathleen.

Tim McGinty paid a company to do the repair work. The work never actually started, according to court documents. Bouzaglou, a salesman at the company, offered to do the work through his separate company.

The work that had begun as a simple garage repair soon turned into nearly $400,000 worth of rebuilds and remodels of the main home, guesthouse and garage.
Tim McGinty needed to obtain a loan to come up with the money.

Over the next couple years, Tim McGinty continued to pay for further work on the property that cost six-figure amounts. In some instances the same work was being paid for twice in separate work orders, according to court documents.

By March 2012, the McGinty siblings were being forced out of their home.

“Bouzaglou moved Tim and Kathleen out of the home and had Kathleen sign a lease for an apartment in Encino,” a court document states. “After moving to Encino, Kathleen suffered from depression, sleeplessness, and stomach pain.”

Tim McGinty attempted suicide at that time. He was sent to a psychiatric facility, from where he also signed an additional work order for Bouzaglou worth nearly $30,000.

When Tim McGinty was released from the facility in May 2012, Bouzaglou had him sign an agreement transferring ownership of the home to him.

Tim McGinty died of a stroke later that year. His cousin Jeanne Haworth succeeded him as trustee of a trust that had been established by the McGinty siblings’ mother Delores, who died in 2009.

When Haworth discovered what had been happening with the house, including that it was in escrow to be sold by Bouzaglou (who had since moved in with his family) for $1.55 million, she filed a lawsuit.

“If this sale had gone through, $1.55 million could have disappeared overnight,” Girard said. “Once we got the real estate under control of the judge, Jeanne and Kathleen had more security.”

He said “this case has relevance to everyone because it shows how important trust administration is.”

Girard added that nationwide “many elderly are the victims of financial fraud, and we know people with disabilities are victimized by crime at rates higher than the rest of the population, often the target of crime because of their disabilities.”

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