Heidi Schultz was walking her two pet Chihuahuas when the raccoon attacked.
It was dusk, a little over a year ago, as Schultz walked the dogs, Molly and Oz, past her Southeast Portland apartment complex's dumpster. It was a filthy place, she says. A couple weeks earlier, the dumpster had literally caught fire, scorching one of the nearby apartments.
The raccoon came out of nowhere and attacked her—biting the front of her leg and sinking its teeth into the back of her knee.
Her screams brought a neighbor, who dislodged the raccoon from her leg by whacking it with a duffel bag.
"My whole leg was bleeding," says Schultz. "There was blood in my shoes. It was gross. You could see the mouth print on the back of my leg where it had latched on."
The raccoon bite is a tenant's nightmare, and the subject of a lawsuit filed Aug. 31 in Multnomah County Circuit Court1.
It's the latest legal claim against the companies that own and manage the massive Southeast Portland apartment complex called Wimbledon Square and Gardens. The complex has become a byword for neglect, and previous lawsuits have highlighted gaps in oversight by city regulators, who failed to identify safety hazards ("Damages," WW, May 30, 2018).
In May, the California-based landlord of the complex, Prime Wimbledon and Prime Administration, lost a nearly unheard-of $20 million verdict for negligence because another tenant had fallen through a concrete walkway that was rotted.
The new lawsuit adds another layer to the troubling image of an out-of-state apartment owner ignoring upkeep. This week, tenants at the complex contacted WW to describe their water being shut off for nearly 24 hours after multiple other shutoffs earlier this year.
Wimbledon officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Schultz is suing for $151,000 for medical bills and the companies' failure to maintain its property. She argues the apartments' owners knew the complex had a trash problem that could attract vermin like raccoons.
The fire in the trash bin in August of last year grew so large it burned a nearby apartment in the complex "due to the excess refuse, including mattresses, in and around the dumpster," her lawsuit alleges.
Schultz's best guess as to why the raccoon bit her: She thinks she may have gotten between the mama raccoon and her babies. But the raccoons wouldn't have been there if not for the trash, the lawsuit argues. "The presence of nuisance animals was a foreseeable hazard associated with the excessive trash in and around the trash receptacles at Wimbledon Square Apartments," the lawsuit states.
At the emergency room at Providence Medical Center, nurses cleaned Schultz's wound and began administering more than 60 injections to prevent a possible rabies infection.
"They gave me a towel to scream into," Schultz says. "It was really, really bad. Part of it is the shock of the whole thing. They're stabbing you in a place that's already traumatized. It was probably the most horrific experience of my life."
She may not have needed the shots. The Oregon Health Authority has not found rabies in raccoons since at least 1960, says OHA public health veterinarian Dr. Emilio DeBess. The health authority does not recommend rabies shots for raccoon bites.
Schultz never heard from her landlords, she says, about whether they had dealt with the raccoon infestation, but she started warning any neighbors she saw with dogs.
Schultz was left with $26,000 in medical bills, the lawsuit says. As a legal assistant, she was between jobs and without health insurance.
"I could buy a car for what this cost," she says. "Next time, I'm going to the vet. It's 80 bucks a rabies shot for my dog, and that lasts for three years."