Decatur, GA—Jurors Wednesday awarded $500,000 to a woman who shattered her leg in a house deck collapse, after they found the home’s owner largely responsible for the crash and cleared the property manager of responsibility. Conover v. Three Options Realty, 16A59190.
A DeKalb County State Court jury needed less than three hours to find homeowner Tyson Martin 85% responsible for the October 2014 deck collapse that broke Monica Conover’s leg in two places. Jurors apportioned the remaining 15% to Shawnea and Mark Berry, the non-party tenants of the home, located in Lithonia, Georgia. The jury’s decision, which apportioned no responsibility to defendant 3 Options Realty, the property's management company, likely reduces the post-verdict judgment to $425,000.
Conover, now 50, broke her leg in two places when the house’s deck collapsed during a party Conover was attending. She contends that the deck, which was more than 30 years old when it collapsed, was unsafe.
During Wednesday’s closing arguments, Fried Rogers Goldberg’s Joseph Wilson, representing Conover, requested more than $4.6 million for the leg injury that he said impairs his clien'ts walking and will leave her in pain the rest of her life.
The two-day trial focused on the deck’s condition and who was ultimately responsible for its collapse. During Wednesday’s closings, Wilson reminded jurors that Rick Linen, a contractor who rebuilt the deck after it collapsed, testified that the wood of the deck that crashed was rotten and had not been properly anchored into the house. “He said that deck was completely unsafe and that, had a qualified person… inspected it, there’s no way he would’ve let anybody go out there,” Wilson said. “No way.”
Conover’s attorneys argued Martin and 3 Options had performed at least some repair work on the worst portions of the deck but had not properly inspected the deck nor completed all necessary repairs. On Wednesday, Wilson compared photos of the deck taken around the time Martin purchased the house, which showed a stairway leading from the backyard to the deck, with post-collapse photos showing no stairway and different railing. “You don’t change the railing and the stairway on a deck unless you know there’s a problem with it, unless you know that it’s rotted out. Well, how did they not know that the rest of the deck [wasn’t] rotted out? Why [didn’t] they change that?” Wilson asked. “They just patched it up moved it on along, [with the goal of] let’s rent it out, and make some money.”
But the defense contended there was no conclusive proof Martin or 3 Options modified the deck, and they company argued they were not responsible for the collapse. “Tyson Martin couldn’t even identify the deck after it collapsed,” Martin and 3 Options’ attorney, Jason Green, told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday. “I would imagine if you built a deck you’d know exactly what it looks like. [Martin] did not.”
Green challenged the assertion that the deck was not properly anchored to the house and contended the defendants were never notified of any problems with the deck before its collapse. “There’s nothing there about any prior notice that an untrained… person would have known that something was wrong with this deck,” Green said, arguing that the mere fact that the deck was more than 35 years old did not require its inspection. “The law is simply, there is no duty to inspect. None.”
Green added the Berrys, as the home's tenants, were responsible for Conover’s injuries. “They have superior knowledge of the deck condition,” Green said. “They have been living with it for the last two-and-a-half years [before the collapse]. If anybody could have known the condition of it when Monica Conover came over, it was the Berrys.”
But, Conover’s attorney, Fried Rogers Goldberg’s Michael Goldberg, argued Martin and 3 Options bore a duty to inspect the deck for safety problems before they ever rented the property. “The question isn’t what should [Martin] have done once he rented [the home],” Goldberg told jurors on rebuttal.“[Instead], is it reasonable for a landlord to inspect a deck that is 35 years old before they rent it out? And you all get to make that decision.”
After the verdict, Goldberg told CVN his client was pleased with the decision, adding that the defense had never made a settlement offer in the case. “This was a zero-offer case,” Goldberg said. “While we always feel that any case that has permanent injuries is a seven-figure case, our client was very happy with the verdict, especially given that no offer had been made by the defendants for the past three years, despite several attempts at resolving the case.”
CVN has contacted attorneys for the defense, and will update this article with any comments.
CVN recorded the trial and will provide gavel-to-gavel video on demand as soon as possible.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
The plaintiff is represented by Fried Rogers Goldberg’s Joseph Wilson and Michael Goldberg.
The defense is represented by Jason Green and Donna Overholt Willis.
CVN recorded the trial and will provide gavel-to-gavel video.
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