Lake Tahoe Unified School District files legal complaint against FieldTurf
Lake Tahoe Unified School District could be heading to court over a defective field turf installed at South Tahoe Middle School nearly a decade ago.
The district in late February filed a complaint against FieldTurf USA alleging breach of contract and fraud, among other complaints. The district claims FieldTurf used “deceptive and unfair business practices” in its manufacturing, marketing, sale and installation of defective artificial turf installed in 2007, according to court documents.
FieldTurf, which has faced criticism since NJ Advance Media published “The 100-yard deception,” a six-month investigation into the company, in December 2016, disputes how the facts are presented in the school district’s complaint.
The NJ Advance Media — a New Jersey-based media company whose affiliated properties include the The Star-Ledger — report found FieldTurf, which identifies itself as “the global market leader in synthetic sports fields,” continued selling high-end turf to school districts and others across the U.S. after learning that the turf was falling apart, all while generating millions of dollars for the company.
FieldTurf has also staked its opposition to the series of stories resulting from the investigation.
“FieldTurf strongly disagrees with the accusations and conclusions upon which this story is based,” according to the company’s website.
LTUSD’s legal complaint relies heavily on the media report as the source of the allegations. It cites emails from FieldTurf’s founder to an employee at the original company the manufactured the fibers used in the turf.
“We are seeing fields showing splitting after under a year of play and have already had to replace one full-sized field due to yard failure after only a few months of installation!” according to one email, sent in December 2006, contained in the district’s complaint.
Another email sent several days later read: “It’s all about that old story of waiting for the next shoe to drop. We have had a few failures as you know. The questions is … will many others fail? Who knows?”
These and other exchanges demonstrate that the company knew the turf was defective, but that did not stop FieldTurf from pursuing a deal to install approximately 92,104 square feet of artificial turf at the middle school in exchange for $471,300, according to the complaint.
With all the news about school districts facing budget cuts and funding issues, news that this company went after taxpayer dollars with a product it knew was defective as far back as 2006 is tragic, said Alex Robertson, an attorney with Robertson & Associates, which is representing both the Tahoe school district and another school district in Santa Barbara.
Questions posed to the school district were directed to Robertson.
In its complaint, the district did not set a specific dollar amount for damages, however, it states it will total at least $500,000 due to the “loss of use of its soccer field,” the costs to investigate the damages, cost to replace the field, attorney’s fees and other economic and special damages, according to the complaint.
FieldTurf, in a statement, said it disagrees strongly “with the representation of the facts in this complaint.”
“South Tahoe Middle School’s field was installed in 2007 and is still in use. This means that the school has gotten roughly a decade of use from the field — well beyond the standard eight-year warranty term.”
The company also stated that any issues with the turf are cosmetic.
“Additionally, it is important to note that the issue with Duraspine has not impacted safety — only how a field looks as it wears. We are committed to honoring our warranties and working with our customers to address any issues if they arise.”
With five other active cases involving FieldTurf, the company is seeking to have the cases grouped together so that they can be addressed all at once, according to Robertson.
He said a panel of judges will likely consider the matter sometime in May. After the hearing, the panel usually issues a decision within 10 days.