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Originally published Saturday, July 16, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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$125,500 given for damage by bad faucet

A federal jury yesterday awarded $125,500 in damages to a former Issaquah couple whose home was flooded when a faulty Price Pfister faucet...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A federal jury yesterday awarded $125,500 in damages to a former Issaquah couple whose home was flooded when a faulty Price Pfister faucet "turned itself on" and sent more than 17,000 gallons of water cascading from a second-floor bathroom.

The award was for damage to the personal property of William and Cynthia Kludas, but the jury rejected the couple's claim that the water damage had greatly diminished the sale price of their property. The couple had sought $75,000 for their home's loss of value and $240,000 for the personal property damage.

"The Kludases believe the sales price of their home was significantly impacted, and the jury decided it wasn't," said Bill Pierson, the couple's Seattle attorney. He said the couple was "disappointed, as you might imagine, yet they're gratified the jury took the time to evaluate what was lost and made a substantial award."

In addition to that sum, Price Pfister had agreed before trial to pay about $180,000 to the couple for repair work, cleanup costs and various incidental expenses they incurred as a result of the broken faucet.

Before the trial started Tuesday, Price Pfister also had admitted liability, so the company and the couple were battling over the value of property and structural damage to the home. The home was for sale when the faucet broke on or about Feb. 8, 2003.

According to trial testimony and court papers, the faucet "turned itself on" when the couple wasn't home, and water flooded the single-family residence over a period of days, damaging or destroying many items.

The damage was discovered by the Kludases' real-estate agent, who contacted the couple in Arizona, where they now live. The Kludases traveled to Issaquah and hired cleanup crews to rip out walls and remove carpet to prevent mold from developing.

The exact type of faucet was never disclosed because liability was not an issue. Price Pfister representatives declined comment when asked if there have been similar failures on other faucets. But in a pre-verdict motion, defense attorney Duncan Turner requested that the faulty faucet be preserved as evidence to be used in "subsequent litigation against the manufacturer."

Pierson objected to Turner's motion, later explaining that the faucet was not admitted as evidence during trial and remained his clients' property.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart, who heard the case, asked both sides to write legal briefs on the motion so he could consider his ruling on the subject.

The Kludases' insurance carrier, The Hartford, sent the faucet to a forensic engineer who determined that a "bad casting" was to blame. During a court break, Jim Heiden, the carrier's general adjuster, said "it's possible" there were other faulty faucets, but also that Price Pfister "probably has good quality controls."

Heiden also said that if the Kludases hadn't sued Price Pfister, The Hartford would have done so to recover the more than $367,000 it paid the couple to compensate them for damage to their personal property and dwelling, plus living expenses they incurred.

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Pierson said he couldn't divulge details, but that his clients and the insurance carrier had agreed to a formula to divide any damage award. Jurors were presented with conflicting accounts of the value of the damaged property and of the home itself.

Pierson argued that his clients repaired what they could and replaced what they couldn't. He also contended that their home ended up selling for more than $100,000 less than what comparable homes sold for, as a result of the damage caused by the broken faucet.

But Turner, the attorney for Price Pfister, contended that the Kludases did not do enough to mitigate their losses. For example, instead of replacing items by buying new ones, he argued, they could have acquired comparable items on the secondary market at consignment stores.

Turner — who had asked jurors to award no more than $104,000 for the personal property only — argued the damage caused by the faucet was not the reason the Kludas home fetched less than other homes in their neighborhood.

"There was a visible, qualitative difference between houses," he told jurors, noting that the Kludases' home had been on the market and sat unsold for several months before the faucet broke.

Seattle Times staff reporter Sara Jean Green contributed to this report.

Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or plewis@seattletimes.com

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