An Oregon jury has awarded a tenant over $20 million after he fell through a catwalk that connected two buildings in an apartment complex. Nearly the entire award is for punitive damages.
The verdict was entered against the owners and managers of a 600-unit apartment complex. The landlord owns an estimated 16,000 apartment units. The tenant lived at the property with his two children for eight years but told the jury that he had given up on making requests for repairs because his complaints were ignored.
The lawyers for the tenant, Kafoury & McDougal of Portland, describe the verdict as “20 million messages” to landlords who choose to defer maintenance and avoid the expense. It is estimated that the cost of basic repairs at the aging apartment complex stood at about $1 million.
After the tenant suffered a serious injury, his attorneys discovered that a contractor previously had inspected the property and presented the owners with a bid for necessary repairs that identified items the contractor dubbed “life safety” issues, including the specific spot in the walkway where the tenant fell through.
At trial, the tenant’s attorneys claimed that while the apartment complex boasts a 98% occupancy rate, it suffers a 70% annual turnover rate. That, combined with the testimony of the contractor who had identified the specific hazard and a maintenance worker who had himself been injured at the property prompted the jury’s response.
Jurors also heard testimony indicating that management employees ordered maintenance workers to paint over rotted wood, rust spots and compromised cement in what the tenant’s lawyers say was an effort to conceal the condition of the property.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.