OGDEN -- Did a company misrepresent itself by not disclosing its expertise, or should the customers have found out more before hiring the company to fix their home, which was riddled with cracks, uneven floors and doors that would not shut?
That is one of several complex issues 2nd District Court Judge W. Brent West must sort through in the next two months before issuing a ruling in Stephen and Patricia England vs. Intermountain Helical Pier Corp. The Englands filed the lawsuit against the company and Layton City in 2nd District Court in Farmington on March 3, 2003.
The case was moved to Ogden earlier this year after Judge Jon M. Memmott announced his retirement.
The case against Layton City will go to trial at a later date, said Jack C. Helgesen, the Englands' attorney.
The Englands hired Intermountain Helical Pier Corp. almost 10 years ago to install piers, to the tune of $60,000, under a home they hoped would be their dream home. They are seeking close to $300,000 from the company for the cost of the repairs done to the home before they moved in, as well as the cost of the home that was destroyed following a landslide.
The Englands moved into the home in April 2001. By June, cracks again began appearing, not only in the home, but in the driveway as well. Layton city officials came to the property at 1369 Heather Drive, and by the end of June the home was condemned, before the August 2001 major landslide, which affected five more homes in the area.
West presided over a bench trial Monday and Tuesday in which both sides presented evidence and testimony about what happened, almost 10 years ago, in a series of events that caused the home the Englands briefly lived in to be destroyed by a landslide.
"I've struggled with the issues," West said. "I have my law clerks looking into the issues. The rules say I have to have a written ruling done in 60 days."
The issues include whether the Englands should have made more inquiries concerning what the pier company was licensed to do and what they were not licensed to do, and whether the employees of the company misrepresented what they could do by not explaining to the Englands they were not soil experts.
West heard testimony from the Englands, homeowner Dr. Richard Steele, a state geologist and an employee and former owner of the pier company.
The Englands, who now live in Missouri, testified they had entered an agreement in 2000 with Steele to fix the Layton home, rent it and at some point buy the home at 1369 Heather Drive. They had filed for bankruptcy in 2000, so were looking for a new place to live.
When the Englands saw the uneven floors, doors that did not shut and cracks in the foundation, they called the pier company seeking help, they said in court.
Ryan Oborn, an estimator for the company, arrived. He testified he had worked for the company for a year and is an estimator or salesman for the company.
He was 27 when he came to the Englands' home. He said he saw signs of what looked like settlement or soil that had not been compacted.
Helgesen asked Oborn if he was qualified to diagnose settlement. Oborn said no, but from what he saw in the house and outside of the house it looked like settlement.
"I shared my opinion that it was settlement," Oborn said.
He also testified he did not have a degree in geology, but his experience accompanying others to job sites helped him form an opinion about the England home.
Oborn testified that instal-ling piers under homes will usually stabilize the soil and stop structures from cracking.
"I think what I did was right and fair," Oborn said.
Oborn said the company did not profit from the England project. Workers found "grout" under the England home when they dug the holes for the piers. That meant someone had previously tried to stabilize the ground under the house. It also meant the Englands would have to spend more money to install more piers.
The Englands requested to have one of the owners of the pier company, James A. Dalton, come to their home during the project.
Dalton, who has since retired, said he went to the home. He also offered the Englands a "lifetime warranty" against failure caused by workmanship or the materials.
The warranty did not cover landslides.
Dalton testified if he had known about the potential of a landslide in the area, his company would not have installed the piers.
"We can't hold a mountain back," he said.
State geologist Richard Giraurd also testified that two maps of the area, one dated 1985, showed that the area has a potential for a landslide.
The Englands testified they never saw the maps until after the landslide in August 2001. They requested all documents and maps from Layton City when they were considering fixing the home.
Giraurd ended up at Heather Drive the first time on June 14, 2001. He walked the area and found many signs of the land moving. He passed out brochures to homeowners with information about what they should watch for in case the land continued to move.
During the last two weeks of August 2001 the land moved enough to force city officials to order the houses on the north side of the road to be either demolished or moved.
A 4-foot drop in 24 hours caused houses to buckle, roofs to be at street level and driveways to literally disappear.
Giraurd said the Heather Drive landslide was unusual because it occurred in August, not in the spring months, which is normally when landslides in Utah occur.