Settlement Talks Bring Halt to Wortman-Ferguson Dispute After 3 Days of Testimony

by George Waldon  on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011 12:00 am  

The bitter dispute over an 11,479-SF dream home that allegedly turned into a nightmare appears headed toward a mid-trial settlement.

Lawyers representing Steve and Missy Wortman and upscale homebuilder Rick Ferguson called a halt last month after three days of testimony - most of it by Steve Wortman - before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza and indicated a settlement was reached.

At last report, that settlement was supposed to be finalized and the necessary court documents filed before Valentine's Day. Ferguson and Steve Wortman, president of Kaufman Lumber Co., couldn't be reached for comment.

The Wortmans were seeking more than $6 million in damages from Ferguson and his Rick Ferguson Inc., Pinnacle Precast Co. and VFE Inc. for alleged major construction flaws in their Valley Falls Estates mansion in west Little Rock.

The couple's accusations against Ferguson and his business entities included breach of contract, implied warranty of inhabitability, negligence and deceit.

Ferguson denied those allegations and declined to take the $3.6 million property back. The disagreement between former friends and business partners erupted into a lawsuit filed Dec. 8, 2009.

The trial was scheduled to last two weeks beginning on Monday, Jan. 24, but there was no courtroom action that day because attorneys told Piazza's office that a settlement had been reached.

The trial was back on Jan. 25 after disagreements scuttled the proposed resolution. Talk made the rounds that Ferguson offered to trade another grand house for the Wortman manor as part of a settlement.

In the months leading up to the trial, the case generated voluminous back-and-forth filings sprinkled liberally with inspection reports and excerpts from sworn depositions.

The Wortmans and two of their expert witnesses testified beginning mid-day on Tuesday, Jan. 25, all day Wednesday and most of Thursday. The trial was put on hold before the start of testimony on the morning of Friday, Jan. 28, by the pending settlement.

Ferguson's lawyers were to begin cross-examination of the Wortmans' second expert witness, Kenneth Bownds of Curtainwall Design Consulting of Dallas.

The bulk of the Wortmans' initial complaint is devoted to details of alleged construction defects that threaten the structural integrity of the house. Those allegations include improperly installed pre-cast stone, interior support piers and beams and poor site preparation.

In the days preceding trial, Ferguson's lawyers requested that accommodations be made for taking the jury to see the Wortman house firsthand. That drew fire from the Wortmans' lawyers although the matter became moot when the parties settled on a non-jury trial.



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