Maui Jury Awards $1.7 Million to Disabled Owner and Spouse Against Association
On July 17, 2018, a Maui jury sided with a disabled man and his wife and awarded the Kihei couple $1.7 million for emotional distress and punitive damages against their association in a dispute involving a request for a reasonable accommodation, the imposition of fines, the due process rights of an owner, and an attempted foreclosure.
The dispute arose when the couple installed hardwood floors in their second floor unit in order to help the husband, who is partially blind, navigate around the unit. They asserted that the dark wood floor contrasted with the white walls, allowing the visually impaired husband to make out boundaries better, and the sound of steps on the hardwood floor provided further guidance.
The association fined the couple $200 per day based on a rule that required second-floor units to have carpeting in order to prevent noise transmission. The association rejected the couple’s request for a reasonable accommodation based on the husband’s condition, even though medical reports substantiated the husband’s disability.
The fines continued for 850 days and reached a total of $170,000, when the association attempted to collect the fines by selling the couple’s unit at a foreclosure auction. The couple was never given a hearing prior to the fines being imposed, as was required by the association’s bylaws. The auction was halted when the couple filed their complaint against the association.
The jury found that the husband-plaintiff had a disability and had requested a reasonable accommodation under federal fair housing laws. The jury’s award included $1.53 million for emotional distress and $170,000 in punitive damages. Punitive damages are typically not covered by insurance. Post-trial motions/appeal are pending.
This case serves as an important reminder to associations and boards that all claims for reasonable accommodations under federal and state fair housing laws must be taken seriously and need to be carefully considered, particularly where the condition is obvious or, as was the case here, medical records support the request for a reasonable accommodation. This case also highlights the need for boards to understand and abide by their association’s bylaws, particularly when it comes to levying fines and granting owners due process.