Oregon Supreme Court Reduces $20.3 Million Jury Award to $5.3 Million in Landlord Negligence Case

Portland, Oregon – The Oregon Supreme Court has overturned a jury’s decision to award a Portland man $20.3 million in a lawsuit against his apartment complex. Robert Trebelhorn sued the complex after he injured his knee when it punched through a rotten wooden walkway. The high court deemed the jury’s award to be “grossly excessive” and instead reduced it to about $5.3 million in punitive damages and $300,000 in compensatory damages. State law mandates that 70% of punitive damages go towards crime victims compensation and courthouse funds.

The ruling by the Supreme Court reflects a broader approach to prevent excessive punitive damages verdicts. The court has previously stated that such large awards should be reserved for “all but the most exceptional of cases.” However, Trebelhorn’s attorneys, Jason and Greg Kafoury, argued that the $20.3 million award was necessary to send a strong message to landlords engaging in “reprehensible” behavior.

The attorney representing the complex, Matthew Casey, did not comment on the ruling. During the trial, the Kafourys contended that the complex’s owners, Prime Wimbledon and Prime Administration, neglected crucial maintenance, endangering the lives and safety of tenants. They claimed that the owners refused to replace deteriorating walkways and instructed maintenance workers to paint over rotting wood.

Trebelhorn, who suffered a thigh-deep injury when his leg punched through the walkway in 2016, underwent surgery and therapy for a torn meniscus. At the time of the trial, he reported ongoing pain and limitations in his activities. The complex’s attorney, Casey, emphasized that there was no intention to harm individuals and accepted responsibility for the incident.

The owners of Prime Group, doing business as Prime Wimbledon and Prime Administration, owned more than 16,000 rental units and $7 billion in real estate, making them one of the largest rental holding companies in the United States, according to Trebelhorn’s lawyers and the company’s website. Initially, the jury awarded Trebelhorn nearly all the compensation he sought, but the award was subsequently reduced by former Multnomah County Circuit Judge Karin Immergut.

The Oregon Court of Appeals later affirmed Immergut’s decision, and the Supreme Court upheld the ruling unanimously. The court’s opinion, along with the details of the case, can be found on their website.

This ruling sets a precedent for punitive damages in Oregon, signaling a limitation on excessive jury awards. Although the outcome disappointed Trebelhorn and his attorneys, who believed the larger award was warranted, it showcases the court’s commitment to maintaining fairness and proportionality in such cases.

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