The nice set of flats in the Richmond District of San Francisco was a great investment. Tenants were providing good income for George and Harriet’s golden years. They bought the place at the right time, 25 years ago, on the advice of their accountant. It was a buyers’ market – good price and interest rates were not too high. Both flats were in excellent condition when they bought the building and renters were standing in line to sign leases. From the very beginning, increasingly so every year since they bought the flats, the income rose and, until recently, the upkeep and maintenance had cost next to nothing. Recently, however, after 25 years of tenant use and exposure to the elements, it was time for significant investment in maintenance and upgrades.
"Nothing was broken, just some scrapes and cuts and a bit of sprain."
Sally, the downstairs tenant wasn’t hurt too badly. As was her custom in the late Summer, she was coming up the back steps to leave Gwen and Tommy some fresh vegetables from her garden. The step just gave in and her foot went through right up to the ankle. Nothing was broken, just some scrapes and cuts and a bit of a sprain. It was taken care of by a trip to Urgent Care, a tetanus shot, a cold pack and an Ace support bandage. Sally had to hobble around for a few weeks but she was alright after that. The insurance company took care of everything and George found some local guys to make repairs to the stairway. The workmen weren’t very qualified but, after all, it was just an outdoor landing and stairway. George and Harriet bought the place to make money not to spend money. Those guys cost a lot less than an expensive licensed contractor.
"Mid flight Tommy's foot caught something that spun him a bit so that he hit bottom first instead of head first and that's why they took him to the hospital instead of the morgue."
Most evenings Tommy enjoyed a cold beer standing on the little landing in the back up the upstairs flat where Sally left fresh vegetables.. It didn’t matter if the fog was in and that it was cold even in the summer. It was a half hour of decompression, a transition from work to home. Tommy leaned back, putting just a bit of his weight on the railing. With the dry rot and nails rusted to dust, the railing just gave way and Tommy was all of a sudden air-born, somersaulting to a bone crushing encounter with the concrete 12 feet below. Mid-flight Tommy’s foot caught something that spun him a bit so that he hit bottom first instead of head first and that’s why they took him to the hospital instead of the morgue.
While Tommy was awaiting surgery, Gwen called Ed McGill. Ed immediately dispatched his trusted expert forensic property inspector who examined the landing, stairway and railing. The forensic inspector took many high quality photographs and wrote a comprehensive report on the conditions that he observed. Ed then wrote to the owners, George and Harriet, and informed them of what had happened. In his letter, Ed asked George and Harriet to preserve the stairway, deck and railing which were evidence. This time George and Harriet did call a contractor who immediately sent a crew to the site. They tore down the old stairway and landing and hauled everything to the dump. George and Harriet were getting rid of the evidence. A new stairway and landing were up in the blink of an eye.
George and Harriet knew about the dangerous condition of the stairs – one tenant had already been injured before Tommy’s twelve foot fall. Instead of making repairs competently, they chose to save money by hiring incompetent workers. They willfully ignored the danger to their tenants and were, therefore, exposed to punitive damages in addition to the usual damages that resulted from Tommy’s fall. Insurance does not cover punitive damages. In addition, after being asked to preserve important evidence, George and Harriet were eager to destroy this evidence, including the rotten railing that was the cause of Tommy’s fall. George and Harriet hurt themselves when they destroyed the evidence of their guilt. They did not know it at the time but Ed had already had his expert make a full report complete with high quality photographs. A jury would be told that George and Harriet’s actions in dumping the evidence showed that they knew that they were guilty and that they were trying to hide the truth.
"Quick action by Ed in immediately dispatching his forensic expert and asking George and Harriet to preserve the evidence clinched this case even before the lawsuit was filed."
A lawsuit was filed and, given the powerful evidence that Ed had gathered, George and Harriet’s attempt to hide their guilt and their exposure to punitive damages, their insurance company was made to pay almost a half million dollars, fully compensating Tommy for his injuries.
Quick action by Ed in immediately dispatching his forensic expert and asking George and Harriet to preserve the evidence clinched this case even before the lawsuit was filed. Tough follow-through and readiness to bring Tommy’s case before a jury insured the maximum settlement from the George and Harriet’s insurer. Good lawyering brings the best results.
[This is a fictionalized account of one of Ed’s actual cases. To preserve required confidentiality, names, places and some incidental facts have been changes.]
Content prepared by Edmond McGill
Copyright 2015 Edmond McGill
This message and the information presented here do not create or evidence an attorney-client relationship nor are they intended to convey legal advice or counsel. You should not act upon this information without seeking advice from a qualified lawyer licensed in your own state or country who actually represents you. In this regard, you may contact The McGill Law Office and then representation and advice may be given if, and only if, attorney Edmond McGill agrees to do so in a written contract signed by him.