Hilton settles tower mold suit
About 2,900 guests qualify to share the $1.8 million settlement
A class-action lawsuit, filed by a Florida man who accused Waikiki's Hilton Hawaiian Village of failing to disclose a mold problem at its Kalia Tower, could compensate former guests up to $1.8 million.
The settlement, which offers guests either $150 in travel coupons or $50 cash for each night of their stay, was given preliminary approval yesterday by Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna, said Thomas Grande, a Honolulu-based attorney who represented the class along with Rick Eichor.
Approximately 2,900 Hilton guests around the world are entitled to participate in the settlement, Grande said. The lawsuit sought only room-rent refunds and did not make any health-related claims, he said.
"Hilton guests are getting real value in this settlement because there is a cash option and the coupons are freely transferable," Grande said, adding that the average price paid for a room by members of the class was approximately $150 per night.
"The settlement is an important victory for consumers and for their rights to be fully informed when they are buying services and products," Grande said. "It helps to solidify the important protections that Hawaii law gives its consumers and businesses."
Hilton, which could not be reached for comment, did not admit any liability in agreeing to the settlement. The settlement does not include payment of attorneys' fees, which have yet to be determined by the court.
The lawsuit alleged Hilton failed to disclose the existence of mold contamination in the Kalia Tower to guests who stayed at the 25-story, 453-room tower in June and July of 2002.
The class representative in the lawsuit, Jeff Moffett, sought a refund of the money he paid during an 18-day stay at the Kalia Tower in July 2002. According to the original lawsuit, Moffett, his wife and son asked Hilton employees to move them four times after the family noticed damp bedsheets, and they were given four different reasons why they could not be moved.
After all class members are notified, the settlement must go back to court for final approval, Grande said. Hilton also has agreed to pay for notifying class members, including those in Japan, he said.
"The class members are from almost every state and many countries around the world -- it's going to be important to make sure that as many class members as possible are informed of their right to participate in the settlement," Grande said.
Hilton closed the Kalia Tower in July 2002 after mold investigators said they found evidence of Eurotium mold in guest rooms. Mold spores are common and continually pass through the air but can grow to unhealthy levels in buildings that have air systems that are not working properly.
Hilton has sued more than a dozen companies and individuals, blaming architects, engineers, construction companies and inspection firms for the massive mold problem, which cost millions to clean up and resulted in a 13-month closure of the property and millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Hilton's pending lawsuit says that after closing the Kalia Tower, Hilton found several design and construction defects that were "substantial factors" that led to the proliferation of mold. The tower, as designed, basically acted as a giant vacuum that sucked in humid outside air because of low internal pressure.