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Fallen Balcony — Apartment Owners Settle Case with Houston Resident
For many, falling from something high in the air is the biggest fear that they possess. That fear was realized by J. Chambers when the concrete balcony below her feet gave way as she stood putting the key into the door of her second floor apartment. Jane plunged approximately 18 feet to the concrete sidewalk and parking lot below which caused severe and permanent injuries.
Ms. Chambers had been living at the small apartment complex in Houston for several months. Despite repairs to other parts of the balcony, the cracks in the concrete outside Ms. Chambers’ apartment were ignored by the corporation that owned the property. The fall caused the herniation of three discs in her lumbar spine, almost total loss of hearing in one ear and substantial hearing loss in another, basal skull fracture, loss of smell, lacerations, abrasions and severe bruising. In addition to her medical conditions and the medical bills she incurred, she missed several weeks of work.
Chad Points of Denena & Points, PC filed a lawsuit against the corporation alleging the balcony was not fit for use by the public because of faulty construction, subpar repair and non-existent routine maintenance. The lawyers for the corporate owner of the apartment complex and its insurance company argued that the failure was a sudden event that could not be foreseen and that they had no notice of prior to the failure. We hired experts on the applicable building codes and concrete to debunk the insurance company and property owner nonsense. In addition, we retained for testifying purposes several of Jessica’s healthcare providers.
This case turned out to be far more complex than a typical premises liability case. As a general rule in Texas law, a landlord does not owe any duty to a tenant; therefore, the owner of the complex would not be responsible for any of the injuries suffered by Ms. Chambers. We had to jump over these high hurdles for Ms. Chambers before even getting to the requirements for a plaintiff to succeed in a premises liability case. At least three exceptions to this general rule have been carved out by the courts of Texas. One, a lessor that makes repairs to the property may be held liable for injuries resulting from those repairs. Two, the lessor can be held liable for concealed defects that existed at the time the tenant took possession of the premises. Finally, “a lessor may be liable for injuries caused by a defect on a portion of premises that remain under the lessor’s control.”
In the area of premises liability, an injured person has a very difficult time proving their case. As a tenant of the apartment complex, Ms. Chambers was an “invitee” at the time of the balcony collapse. In legal terms this means that Ms. Chambers was on the premises of the landlord at the invitation of the landlord and so that the landlord could make money. In such a situation, the plaintiff must prove that the premise owner had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition on the premises. So we had to prove the corporate landlord “either knew, or after reasonable inspection should have known, of an unreasonably dangerous condition,” on the apartment property, specifically the balcony.
The insurance lawyer claimed that the corporate landlord had any notice of the dangerous condition at all and filed a summary judgment. The purpose of a summary judgment is to permit the trial court to dispose of cases where a side cannot offer enough proof of the claims it has made. In this case, the summary judgment claimed two things. First, the insurance lawyer argued that the corporate landlord had not duty to its’ tenant, Ms. Chambers. Second, the insurance lawyer argued the corporation did not have actual or even constructive notice of a dangerous condition on the balcony.
I put coporate officers under oath in a deposition to get the truth. With this testimony and inspections of the property and expert opinion and analysis, we beat summary judgment when the judge denied the insurance lawyers’ motion. This case was mediated on two separate occasions and ultimately resolved near trial for a confidential amount.
Ms. Chambers was represented in this case by the attorneys of Denena & Points, P.C. The case was referred to the firm by a prominent Houston based litigation and transactional law firm.
Attorneys’ fees were forty percent of the settlement. Denena & Points, PC advanced case expenses of $27,000.00.