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Partners at odds over liability in Mirabella lawsuit
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000
ST. PETE BEACH -- Bob Douglass and Lon Wadsworth have stood together for years as business partners in housing developments peppered throughout Pinellas County.
Now, when it comes to liability in the construction of the 76-unit Mirabella townhome complex, Douglass wants Wadsworth to stand alone.
Douglass has asked a Pinellas circuit judge to protect his corporation from homeowners' claims that the units were built shoddily. If there is blame, Douglass' claim says, it rests with Wadsworth's construction company.
"Wadsworth was the builder of the condominium units and responsible for the construction of the buildings, which the plaintiffs purchased," reads Douglass' claim, filed April 20.
Douglass' company is the Mirabella Development Corp., which developed the Mirabella townhomes in St. Pete Beach. Wadsworth's company is Wadsworth Development Corp., which built them.
Douglass' claim was filed as part of a lawsuit brought by five Mirabella unit owners, who sued Mirabella Development Corp. in 1998. They alleged that poor construction left them with leaky roofs, poorly installed stucco and even some electrical hazards.
The city of St. Pete Beach also is pursuing code enforcement action against the Mirabella developers in a separate proceeding.
Mirabella also has sued Hendrick Roofing, the company it blames for most of the construction problems, but the claim has Douglass, a former mayor of St. Pete Beach, separating his company's role in the Mirabella project from Wadsworth's.
Kent Whittemore, who represents Mirabella Development Corp. and Wadsworth Development Corp. in their dealings with the city of St. Pete Beach, said the two companies did indeed have different roles in the Mirabella project.
"Mirabella hired Wadsworth Development as the contractor, who then hired subcontractors," Whittemore said. "There are definite roles."
Douglass did not return phone calls placed to his law office. Wadsworth also did not return calls. Neither did A. Wade Adams, who represents Douglass in his complaint against Wadsworth.
"Mirabella would only be derivatively, technically, constructively or vicariously liable for any damages as a result of the alleged actions of defendant Wadsworth Development Corp.," reads Douglass' claim against Wadsworth, filed April 20. "Furthermore, Mirabella itself is without fault with regard to the actions alleged in the complaint. As such, any damages or injuries sustained by the plaintiffs would be the direct and proximate result of Wadsworth's acts."
Few people in St. Pete Beach had heard about Douglass' cross-claim by Tuesday. "It's news to me," City Manager Carl Schwing said.
The companies Douglass is trying to separate in legal claims are very much connected in Florida corporate records.
Douglass is listed as the president of Mirabella Development Corp.; Wadsworth is secretary and treasurer.
At Wadsworth Development, Wadsworth is president, while Douglass and Lana Jo Lehmann are both listed as secretary and treasurer.
The two have shared a long-standing business relationship. According to Times files, they formed the Wadsworth Development Corp. in 1984 while working on Woodview, a development with single-family homes in Pinellas Park, and the Links, a 92-unit condominium and townhouse development at Lake Seminole Country Club.
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