I’m publishing this last one just under the wire. On Thursday of this week the Washington Supreme Court will be visiting the UW School of Law to hear arguments on three cases. I’ve already previewed two of those cases: State v. Escalante and Lee v. Evergreen Hospital.
This post discusses Gerlach v. The Cove Apartments, which could be about a few different things. It might be a tort case about the defense of voluntary intoxication. It might be an interesting landlord-tenant case about the rights of invitees. It might be a case about implied rights of action based on statutes.
Or it might be a really fact-specific case that depends on the wording of a trial court’s evidentiary decision. You’ll just have to find out. As always, you can skip my summary analysis and just read the briefs yourself, all 450 pages of them!
Facts and Trial Court Proceedings
The underlying facts of this case are relatively simple: Kim Gerlach lived with her fiance in a unit in The Cove Apartments, which were managed Weidner Property Management. One night, Gerlach, her fiance, and two friends headed back to the apartment after a night out drinking. Here is where the parties’ versions of events diverge. Everyone seems to agree that sometime after she arrived back at the apartment, Gerlach fell from the apartment’s balcony when a rotted railing from the balcony gave way. Gerlach sustained a severe head injury from the fall. She does not remember the event.
Gerlach sued Weidner/Cove under two causes of action. First, she asserted a traditional common law negligence claim under the normal duty a landlord has to invitees on a property. Second, she asserted a claim under the warranty of habitability under Washington’s Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, RCW 59.18.010, et seq.
At trial, Gerlach advanced the following theory of events: She returned to the apartment, went inside, made her way to the balcony, and leaned against the railing. The rotted railing then gave way and she fell. Gerlach argued that Weidner breached its duty of care to her by not properly maintaining the railing. She weighed approximately 125 pounds at the time. And she argued that a properly maintained, non-rotted railing should have easily supported her weight.Continue reading