A jury has found a Portland apartment complex failed to make proper repairs to a walkway and awarded $20 million to a man who fell through the Portland apartment walkway, according to reports.
The man, Robert Trebelhorn, plunged waist-deep into a rotting, second-story walkway in February 2016, according to the lawsuit. He tore the meniscus in his knee, causing ongoing pain and therapy even after he underwent surgery.
Trebelhorn filed suit against Wimbledon Square Apartments and its parent company Prime Group, a Los Angeles-based real estate firm, after construction crews discovered serious dry rot and cracking concrete in the walkway.
His attorneys Jason and Greg Kafoury said Prime Group refused to make repairs for at least a decade.
“[Prime Group] was not just not fixing things, it was actively covering up rotten wood by painting over it,” Jason Kafoury told katu.com. “They were giving an illusion of safety, when in reality, they were just trying to make tenants think it was safe.”
Landlords need to get the message about repairs
“We’re going to attempt to get national media attention so landlords across the country get the message that they need to make situations safe for their tenants,” Kafoury said according to Williamette Week.
The attorneys said that after at least a decade of deferred maintenance, the owners of the Wimbledon Square apartments refused to spend about $750,000 to $1 million to repair the walkway and other deteriorating stairways, balconies and walkways at the 600-unit complex.
Instead, the owners, Los Angeles-based Prime Group, approved spending about $250,000 on the problem, the attorneys said.
Portland apartment walkway given appearance of safety
The management also had a history of telling maintenance workers to paint over rotting wood that supported the walkways and to apply a thin veneer of concrete over cracking walkways or stairs to give them the appearance of safety, Trebelhorn’s attorneys said.
“It was bubble-gum fixes — bubble gum and tape — and that’s how it was for years at this place,” Portland attorney Jason Kafoury told a Multnomah County Circuit Court jury, according to OregonLive.com.
During the trial, Prime Group’s Portland attorney, Matthew Casey, contended that this was a case about a man who injured his leg and not an example of some “evil intent” by the complex’s owners to hurt people.
“We agree that this event happened,” Casey said. “We’re sorry that it happened, and we’re taking responsibility that it happened.”
Attorneys for Trebelhorn said property management and apartment employee testimony was key.
“We had four former employees who had the courage to come into the courtroom and tell the truth,” Jason Kafoury said according to katu.com. “All of them said that Prime Group had serious rot issues for over a decade and would not send the money to make the place safe.”
The attorney pointed to a July 2014 email between the apartments’ then-property manager and the former head of capital investments.
The property manager wrote, “I think it’s important that if it comes up, we inform ownership of the severe dry rot we have continuing at [Wimbledown Square Gardens and Wimbledon Gardens].”
The Wimbledon Square Portland apartments cover multiple blocks and 72 buildings, with a street address of 2837 S.E. Colt Drive — just north of the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.