$3.5M Personal Injury Verdict Against Landlord Upheld

A woman went to a birthday party with her boyfriend and two other friends. She had a lot to drink. After the party the group went to the boyfriend’s apartment complex.

The boyfriend and one friend went to a convenience store. While they were away, the other friend remained outside the apartment to smoke while the woman went up to the second floor to go to her boyfriend’s apartment unit. Shortly afterwards the friend heard a loud snap, turned, and saw the woman falling headfirst onto concrete steps. The decayed balcony railing fell with her. She was severely injured.

The woman sued the landlord. At trial she admitted she had been intoxicated. The judge did not allow evidence of her blood alcohol level. The jury found the woman partly at fault, but put most of the liability on the landlord. The jury’s verdict, after reduction for the woman’s fault, was over $3.5 million.

The apartment appealed, arguing that the trial judge should have allowed the BAC evidence, and that the landlord’s duties under landlord-tenant law warranties of habitability do not extend to guests of tenants. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge and ordered a new trial.

The injured woman appealed to the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeals and upheld the verdict. The Supreme Court opinion settles Washington on important points of law concerning landlord liability to tenant guests.

Although we had no role in this case, our office is experienced in both landlord-tenant and personal injury law.

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