By Alexa Hyland
Daily Journal Staff Writer
You’ve teed off on the fifth hole of a golf course nestled in the Angeles National Forest in northern Los Angeles County. You’re driving up the hill toward the green, and suddenly your golf cart stops. If your cart stalls like that enough times during rounds, you may want to relinquish your membership and play elsewhere. And that, the owners of the private Lake Elizabeth Golf & Ranch Club said in a lawsuit, is exactly what several members did.
The suit led to a $1.7 million jury verdict against the Augusta, Ga., makers of E-Z-Go golf cars. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Alan Rosenfield granted the award to course owner Ridgetop Ranch Properties on June 6.
The jury found E-Z-Go breached its warranty and fraudulently misrepresented its product, which the company touts as the No. 1 selling golf car in the world. Ridgetop Ranch Properties Inc. v. Jacobsen E-Z-Go, MC013551 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed April 19, 2002).
“The company kept blaming the problems on the golf course, but at the same time E-Z-Go was also getting complaints from other courses,” lead planitiffs’ lawyer Stephen A. Jamieson said. Jamieson, R. Bruce Evans and Ryan M. Kroll of Playa del Rey’s Solomon, Saltsman & Jamieson and Tom Ward of Lancaster’s Michelizzi Schwabacher Ward & Bianchi represented Ridgetop in the suit.
Ridgetop owned and operated the golf course until May 2002, when, according to the complaint, the company sold the property at a diminished price of $5.5 million. The plaintiffs asked for compensatory damages in excess of $3.5 million but were awarded $1.67 million with 10 percent post-judgment interest.
At trial, Ridgetop’s lawyers blamed the course’s golf carts for the low sales price. The attorneys said the club bought 80 carts in 1997 after E-Z-Go sales representatives boasted about a unique feature of the carts: a “controller” that sets the speed for easy use on the course’s hilly terrain. Allegedly, five months after the carts were purchased, they began to break down and eventually became inoperable.
Ridgetop’s lawyers claimed Lake Elizabeth Golf & Ranch Club gained a reputation as an unreliable course and suffered a decrease in the number of rounds played, which led to diminished property values. “We asked for compensatory damages because of loss in profits and decreased value of the property,” Jamieson said. “You make money on the rounds of golf you can provide,” he said. “If players can’t get on a course, they ask for their money back.”
“The carts are the lifeblood of a golf course,” he said.
During the trial, E-Z-Go’s lawyer, Michael S. Sutton of Mission Viejo’s Sutton & Murphy, argued the course’s property value dropped after competitive golf courses opened in the Lancaster area. “There was nothing defective with the vehicles,” Sutton said.
Solomon, Saltsman & Jamieson are attorneys practicing in the areas of ABC law, ABC Appeals Board cases, and all related Land Use Matters such as City and County Conditional Use Permits, Variances, Police and Fire permits, Entertainment law, and Gambling Law; as well as Business and Personal Injury litigation. Solomon, Saltsman & Jamieson can be reached at 800 405 4222.”