Bringing Down the House (By Proving Plaintiff Brought Down the Door)

SFE Attorney: Cliff Wilson

Plaintiff Attorney: Leah Johnson

City, Co., State: Multnomah County Circuit Court, Oregon

Claims Alleged: Personal Injury

Injuries Alleged: Concussion, contusion, headaches

Admitted Liability: No

Amount Claimed: $10,000

The Overview

Team Wilson recently represented a hotel in a lawsuit brought against it by a former guest.  The guest who brought the suit overstayed their welcome when she decided to stop paying her bill.  When the hotel put its foot down and told the guest that no payment means no room, the guest became angry, and took it out on the door.

The Background

According to the plaintiff’s version of events, the plaintiff, her boyfriend, and her five children, were in the process of moving their things out of their hotel room after being asked to leave by the hotel staff.  While they were moving their belongings out of the room, the door to the room “fell out of its wooden frame.”  They alleged that when the door fell, it hit the plaintiff on the head and knocked her to the floor.  The plaintiff claimed that several injuries resulted from this including: headaches, neck pain, and a scalp contusion.  She sought payment for medical expenses and noneconomic damages totaling about $10,000. 

Plaintiff’s Theme

Plaintiff’s counsel relied on a res ipsa theory in an attempt to prove negligence of the hotel. Their main argument was that doors don’t just fall; the hotel must have been negligent because the door did fall, and negligence should be inferred due to the fact that the door fell. Plaintiff claimed negligence based on failure to inspect for safety hazards, failure to maintain the structure surrounding the door, failing to warn of the potential unsafe door, and in allowing plaintiff to occupy the room.

Our Strategy

At the beginning of the dispute, Cliff made the bold decision to deny all liability and did not make a pre-filing offer.  This decision reflects the great deal of trust the clients had in our attorney’s skills.  Under ORS 20.080, if we had returned with anything less than a full defense verdict, our clients would have been required to pay attorney’s fees.

The primary argument was that the reason the door came out of the frame was because the plaintiff and her family were angry at being kicked out of the hotel.  The theory went that in a fit of anger they hit, kicked, or slammed the door, causing it to become damaged, and to ultimately come crashing down. 

To back up this theory, the manager of the hotel appeared in person and testified that there had never been any previous problems with the door.  He also stated that a maid at the hotel heard a loud bang (like a gunshot) immediately before the door fell.  Further, he indicated that the plaintiffs were quite upset at being asked to leave the premises.  Cliff’s team had also obtained photographic evidence showing that the wooden frame was split from top to bottom, a type of damage that doesn’t occur from neglect, but does occur when a sudden strong force is exerted on the wood.  During a meticulous cross-examination, plaintiff admitted that she had no concerns about the supposedly neglected door.  In fact, her and her children had “used that door 10 times a day” for two months and never once had a problem.

The Outcome

The arbitrator found the Team Wilson version of events to be much more credible than the plaintiff’s.  A complete defense verdict was awarded and our clients were especially pleased that they didn’t have to pay a penny to the plaintiff!

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