Highmark CEO faces suit over renovation

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A long-running billing dispute between the CEO of Pittsburgh insurer Highmark Inc. and the general contractor that remodeled his $2.7 million mansion in Sewickley Heights could be coming to a resolution in the next few weeks.

William Winkenwerder Jr. has been sued by contractor Mark A. LaBella, president of Century Interiors Inc. Mr. LaBella claims that Dr. Winkenwerder and his wife, Mary Pride, stiffed Century Interiors to the tune of $147,274, plus interest.

The total bill for the renovations was about $892,000.

The lawsuit claims the Winkenwerders made regular payments from August 2012, when the massive rehab began, to January 2013. But invoices submitted by the contractor between Jan. 25 and March 3, 2013, have gone unpaid.

The Winkenwerders are claiming that the contractors went overbudget without clearly authorized change orders, and that the final cost of the project was not included in the original contract proposal, a purported violation of the state's Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act.

But, according to Mr. LaBella's attorney, Francis McTiernan Jr. of Wayman, Irvin, & McAuley, the provision of a precise price estimate would have been impossible because the scope of the job and the materials included in the remodeling changed as the rehabilitation was carried out.

The civil complaint, filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, says the Winkenwerders have yet to pay up for substantial carpentry and painting work, the installation of a security system, plumbing work, a new vanity mirror in the master bath, chandelier removal, improvements in the butler's pantry and flower-cutting room, and several jobs carried out by subcontractors.

Century Interiors filed a mechanic's lien in May, and filed the civil complaint in the same month. A conciliation conference has been scheduled between the two parties for Jan. 30, although that could be postponed. If the settlement talks are not fruitful, the litigation would proceed. The Winkenwerders are asking that the suit be tossed.

One of the Winkenwerders' attorneys, Matthew Burger of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, said, "We believe [the] plaintiff's claims are without merit, and have no further comment at this time."

Disputes between contractors and homeowners are common, Mr. McTiernan said, but this one is noteworthy because of the size of the tab and the residence. "You get into more craftsman-type work, the expenses build up very quickly," he said.

Purchased in 2012, Dr. Winkenwerder's Persimmon Road home -- an eight-bedroom, six-bath, 9,200-square-foot Georgian mansion known as Windy Knoll -- sits on 10 acres and was previously owned by Joseph Maroon, renowned UPMC neurosurgeon and a team doctor to the Steelers, and Lynn Maroon. It was designed in the 1920s by Philadelphia architect Carl Ziegler for Pittsburgh Plate Glass chairman R.L. Clause.

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.

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