A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this story about homeowners who are searching for who's to blame for the Chinese drywall that's wrecking their homes. In the article, I referenced this deal being offered by South Florida-based Lennar home builder, which has agreed to fix homes if homeowners won't later sue. Lennar, it seems, wasn't very happy about that part of the deal going public.
The company's Los Angeles-based media-relations person, Glenn Bunting, wrote me the next day demanding a correction. "Nowhere in the six-page agreement are homeowners required to promise not to sue Lennar if they later develop health problems," Bunting wrote. "We would appreciate a correction."
Now, I'm no lawyer, so I had the document checked by two of them.
Both agreed language in the deal would forbid homeowners from later suing Lennar. The agreement states that it serves as "full settlement of any and all claims, demands, losses, or damages... " It continues that the homeowner "hereby assigns to Homebuilder all of its present and future rights, title, interest, claims, demands, and all other 'Assigned Rights'..."
Even nonlawyers can figure out that such language means you can forget ever suing Lennar after signing the deal.
So I called Bunting back and explained. He disagreed, pointing out, rightfully, I suppose, that I'm no lawyer and that his attorneys have assured him such language does not take away a homeowner's right to sue.
"I'm going to call your bluff," I told him. "Send me a statement that says that and I'll print it." He replied with this email:
Here's your statement from Lennar:
"Homeowners who execute the Agreement retain the right to pursue all potential claims for personal injury against any responsible party, which includes manufacturers, importers, distributors, suppliers, installers and the builder."
OK, so again, I sent Bunting's email to a lawyer. She unequivocally said the statement was a hedge. Nowhere does it mention Lennar. Nowhere does it mention the contractor -- which is Lennar's role here.
Deliberate oversights? I called Bunting today for a reply. And if he clarifies it, I'll post his response. I'm sure homeowners who have taken the deal would like to see it.