In a case that may have lasting impact for landlords, a Portland jury awarded more than $20 million for a California owner's failure to make repairs to their 600-unit apartment complex in Southeast Portland.
After a five-day trial in Multnomah County Circuit Court, the jury ordered that owner, Prime Wimbledon SPE LLC, and the management company, Prime Administration, LLC, to pay Robert Trebelhorn $45,597.09 in economic damages as well as $250,000 for non-economic damages.
But the more significant award—for punitive damages—requires each of the two companies to come up with $10 million a piece.
In February 2016, Trebelhorn, then a baseball coach at Cleveland High School, fell through a concrete walkway up to his groin while he lived in the Wimbledon Square complex, in the Reed neighborhood.
The wood holding up the walkway had rotted out, causing the collapse, the lawyers for Trebelhorn alleged. In court, the plaintiffs showed an image of where Treblehorn fell.
"Slumlords that think they can squeeze people endlessly for money and let their property deteriorate should not be able to sleep after this verdict," says Greg Kafoury, of Portland-based law firm Kafoury & McDougal.
"If you don't keep your property in safe working order, the jury might award enough money, you're going to lose it," adds Mark McDougal, Kafoury's colleague.
The Oregonian first reported the verdict.
Former employees and a contractor who worked at Wimbledon testified against the company. In particularly damning evidence, the company had already identified the area of the fall as a problem before Trebelhorn's injury.
In court, a lawyer for the defendants—Matthew Casey, a partner with the firm Bullivant, House Bailey—did not dispute the need for economic and some non-economic damages while arguing against punitive damages. (Casey did not respond to an email or voicemail on Friday evening asking for comment on whether the defendants might appeal.)
As required by law, 70 percent of the punitive damage award will go to the state's attorney general, with most going to the crime victims compensation fund.
The plaintiff's attorneys hope the verdict is a wake-up call.
"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," said Jason Kafoury, another of Trebelhorn's attorneys.