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Rod Tennyson, P.A., and Babbitt, Johnson File for Punitive Damages Following Victory Against Nation's Largest Publicly Traded Apartment Landlord.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Rod Tennyson, P.A., and Babbitt, Johnson, Osborne Le Clainche, P.A., today announced they will pursue punitive damages following their big class action victory for Florida tenants against the nation's largest publicly traded apartment landlord, Equity Residential.

Earlier this week, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Susan R. Lubitz concluded Chicago-based Equity Residential - a publicly-traded Real Estate Investment Trust (NYSE:EQR) - knowingly violated Florida law by illegally charging tenants big penalties if they left before their one-year leases were up or failed to give notice of non-renewal. Judge Lubitz then ordered Equity to remove over $15 million in illegal charges from the credit reports of thousands of former Equity tenants. Equity, with $12.5 billion in assets, is the nation's largest publicly traded apartment owner.

"Large corporate companies must be held accountable for their actions, and that is why we are asking for punitive damages," said attorney Rod Tennyson, who represents tenants in both cases with Ted Babbitt of Babbitt, Johnson, Osborne & Le Clainche, P.A., a West Palm Beach plaintiff's trial law firm.

"The fact that Equity ruined the credit and good name of thousands of tenants who were victims of these unlawful practices is simply unconscionable," Babbitt said.

In her order, Judge Lubitz ruled that Equity ignored the advice of Donna Barfield, the firm's own Florida counsel, in an August 1999 memo that said Equity's collection of "liquidated damages" equivalent to 60 days' rent for tenants terminating early was illegal.

"Equity knew that the fees in the Lease and National Lease affecting early terminating tenants were impermissible," Judge Lubitz wrote. "Despite Barfield's legal advice, Equity continued to attempt to collect these fees until Jan. 31, 2004."

With the Court's finding of intentional violation of state law and false credit reporting, the Plaintiffs class action attorneys will ask Judge Lubitz for a separate jury trial on whether Equity is liable for punitive damages.

A jury may award punitive damages up to three times actual damages if it finds the defendant engaged in intentional conduct or gross negligence.

"Intentional misconduct" means that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury or damage to the plaintiff would result and, despite that knowledge, intentionally pursued that course of conduct, resulting in injury or damage. "Gross negligence" means that the defendant's conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.

If the jury finds a defendant engaged in unlawful activities that at the time of injury the defendant had a specific intent to harm the plaintiff and the jury determines that the defendant's conduct did in fact harm the plaintiff, then there is no cap on punitive damages and the jury may consider the net worth of the defendant in making a punitive damage award.

Rod Tennyson, whose practice includes landlord-tenant litigation, actually wrote the consumer protection laws he said the landlord defendants violated while he served as a Florida Assistant Attorney General in the 1970s. Ted Babbitt is founding partner of his 36-year-old firm, which represents catastrophically injured and wronged people in pharmaceutical litigation, brokerage fraud, personal injury and wrongful death, products liability and medical malpractice cases.

Equity Residential owns more than 1,000 properties in 33 states and has 225,000 apartments, 33,000 of them throughout Florida. For more information and a complete listing of properties by area, see http://www.equityapartments.com.

Equity suit: Tammy Yates, Peter Miller, Maria Cruz and Jose Ortega as Class Representatives v. Equity Residential Properties, et al., Civil Case No. CA 02-14116, Palm Beach County Circuit Court.Further information at the suits and general background is available at http://www.babbitt-johnson.com or http://www.rodtennyson.com.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Dec 10, 2004
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