20 Million Reasons to Fix your Buildings
A Multnomah County jury recently reached a verdict in a lawsuit filed by Robert Trebelhorn against the Wimbledon Square apartments. It was undisputed that Mr. Trebelhorn fell through a rotting second-story walkway and injured his knee. The jury awarded $295,000 for medical bills and pain and suffering. The jury, however, did not stop there. They awarded $20 million in punitive damages. No, you did not misread that number. Twenty. Million. Dollars.
Mr. Trebelhorn's attorneys alleged in the suit that the apartment owners ignored signs of damage, had years of deferred maintenance, and ignored a contractor's plea to complete necessary repairs for the safety of the residents. The plaintiff also alleged that the owners had a history of covering up rotting wood and other signs of danger to provide the appearance of safety. In the end, the jury clearly agreed with the plaintiff's theory of the case.
I often preach to all who will listen that when associations or building owners discover significant property damage, there is a means to recover under a first-party insurance claim for some or all of the repairs necessary to fix the property. Owners often decide not to pursue a claim because they don't want to take the chance on a claim; or, more often, they don't want to do an investigation for fear of what they might find. If recovering insurance proceeds to help fix the property was not enough of an incentive, this case presents another reason to investigate property damage and kick the tires on a potential claim. Well, technically, it provides 20 million reasons to investigate the state of buildings.
My guess is that recovering money on an insurance claim is a much more palatable option than paying $20 million and risking the safety of owners and residents. If boards and owners aren't sure when or how to get started exploring their options, feel free to give us a call. Our initial assessment is free.