This legal action shouldn’t stand a ‘ghost’ of a chance

There is a very interesting albeit bizarre case in connection with the sale of a home in Thornton.

The buyers apparently were never aware that the previous tenants had died in a murder-suicide. So once they found out the gruesome details they filed a complaint in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.

According to a story by Delco Times reporter Alex Rose, Janet Milliken claims her American dream of homeownership had “became a nightmare when she unwittingly bought a $600,000 home where the previous tenants had died in a murder-suicide.”

“Milliken claims she was unaware until September 2007 that the previous owners — Kostantinos and Georgia Koumboulis — had died in a murder/suicide in February 2006. She filed a complaint in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas against the Jaconos and Realtors involved in the transaction, alleging fraud and negligent misrepresentation, as well as a breach of the Real Estate Seller Disclosure Law and a violation of the Unfair Trade Practices Consumer Protection Law.

“ ‘She’s frustrated,’  said her attorney, Timothy Rayne. ‘It’s been a long road for her, and an upsetting time for her and her teenage children. She’s been dealing with this for over five years now.’

“Milliken, who still lives in the house, closed on the Thornton property on Aug. 10, 2007, for a sale price of $610,000. She purchased the home from Joseph and Kathleen Jacono, who had bought the property at auction in September 2006 and ‘flipped’ it to Milliken.”

Rose in the article also said “Milliken had offered two expert real estate appraisers, one of which found the stigma of the murder-suicide could reduce the value of the home by 10 to 15 percent, while the other placed the home’s value at $525,000. Thus, said (Judge John) Bender, the stigma does represent a documented economic loss and a “material defect” that must be disclosed.”

So if I understand this right, the purchasers are upset because they didn’t know that the murder-suicide occurred there and that they have suffered “psychological damage.”

“ ‘The Jaconos are good people who sought, and were given sound advice regarding the disclosure statement,’ said their attorney, J. Scott Watson, in an email. “They followed this advice and this course of action has been validated by the Superior Court’s opinion finding in their favor,’ ” states the story.

“The majority opinion goes on to say that psychological damage will decrease over time as the crimes in question recede from public memory; that any such psychological effect will vary from person to person; and that it is impossible to assign a monetary value to the psychological damage to a house caused by a murder.”

Milliken had offered two expert real estate appraisers, one of which found the stigma of the murder-suicide could reduce the value of the home by 10 to 15 percent, while the other placed the home’s value at $525,000. Thus, said Bender, the stigma does represent a documented economic loss and a “material defect” that must be disclosed.

I suppose I am a bit confused by what the damage is. If the logic is that potential buyers will not want the house or will want to pay a lower price, then doesn’t it stand to reason that the Milliken family would have done that very same thing? And to me, the fact that such an incident took place at the house has nothing to do with the current owners.

Years ago I bought a house in Delaware County and found out at settlement that the previous owner had died in the house. As the years went on I actually found myself making jokes about it blaming missing keys and the like on Mr. Shugg. Pretty soon, it was a nothing thing.

It sounds to me like the purchasing family is reaching on this one. I didn’t hear anything in this story that said they were trying to sell the house and couldn’t based on public knowledge of the murder-suicide.

So what is the point here? I really can’t buy it that the family has suffered severe psychological damage. From what exactly? The knowledge that the crime occurred before they bought the house? Hmm.

I know people can sue each other for all sorts of reasons. This one to me shouldn’t stand a “ghost” of a chance in court. There, I said it.

— Andy Hachadorian

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About fromtheeditorchair

I am the editor of the Daily Local News.
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