A homeowners' association in northwest Las Vegas, ordered to pay $20 million because of its failure to perform routine inspections and maintenance on playground equipment, is now promising homeowners they will not have to foot the bill.
Carl Thompson, who was 15 years old at the time, suffered severe brain injuries from a swing set that collapsed on his head at Lamplight Village in Centennial Hills. The swing set collapsed in 2013. Since then, the Lamplight Village playground has had empty poles where the swings used to sit.
"He was playing basketball," attorney Al Lasso said. "He sat down on the swing set to send a text message. When he sat down, the 42-pound steel bar fell from a height of eight feet and crushed his skull."
"He's trying to finish high school," attorney Sean Claggett said. "This injury caused him to not finish yet, so he's still trying to finish high school."
Lamplight Village's insurance company only covers a maximum of $2 million out of the $20 million awarded at trial.
Since the verdict, homeowners have been scared they could lose their homes. Some said they had no idea this case existed and were considering filing a lawsuit against the HOA for failing to tell them about pending litigation.
"We didn't know anything was going on until we saw a FOX5 tweet about the whole situation, which is quite honestly a very disappointing way to find out news that's going on in your own neighborhood," homeowner Jeremy Long said. "We just moved in. Are we going to lose our house? We have no idea."
At trial, Claggett and Lasso told the jury Lamplight Village had the option to pay a $150 monthly maintenance fee, but declined. The HOA also declined multiple settlement offers.
Michael McKelleb, an attorney who was recently hired to represent Lamplight Village, said all of the settlement offers were for less than the $2 million policy limit. He said Lamplight Village wanted to settle, but couldn't.
"The (HOA) board didn't have authority," McKelleb explained. "The policy provided that authority to the insurance carrier... The insurance company turned that down and went to trial."
"An insurance carrier should not be stingy with paying policy limits," he continued. "In hindsight, it was far too great of a risk."
Lamplight Village is now filing a claim against its insurance company, QBE Insurance, for rolling the dice with someone else's money in a case they could not win. First, the victim has to take a risk by signing a settlement with the HOA.
"If (the insurance company) were to win the case, then the settlement would still provide that Mr. Thompson has agreed not to go after the homeowners," McKelleb said. "(Thompson) is not looking to make more victims. He doesn't want to get paid from the homeowners by taking their homes from them. That doesn't really help anybody, and quite honestly to get the kind of money he would need from them, it's not going to be there... I don't think anybody would be interested in displacing 284 families."
Lasso and Claggett have not yet commented on the settlement. McKelleb, who did not yet represent Lamplight Village at the time of trial, said the settlement had already been signed.
McKelleb said he feels horrible for the victim and hopes he can help ensure Thompson is paid the money he's owed from the insurance company.
"I don't know what would have happened if (my client) had had a maintenance program," McKelleb said. "This play set should have lasted for 20 years if a 300 pound person had been swinging on it. If you're a board member who doesn't know anything about swing sets, and that's your understanding, and it's a fairly new play set, it doesn't seem unreasonable to think, 'Well, maybe in the future we'll get a program to have it looked at every now and then.'"
McKelleb also said all homeowners were notified about the pending litigation through a letter and as a part of their CC&R documents.
If Lamplight Village wins its case against QBE Insurance, Thompson could theoretically earn more than $20 million and homeowners would not have to pay a dime, McKelleb said. If Lamplight Village loses, homeowners may have to pay for attorney fees, which would be considerably less than $20 million.
Representatives for QBE Insurance have not yet replied to FOX5's requests for comment. Stay with FOX5 News for continuing updates on this case.
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