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Considering Premises Liability In the Case of the Woman Trapped Between Two Walls

On January 16, 2013, firefighters responded to an unusual situation in downtown Portland. A woman had fallen into a tiny eight inch gap between the exterior walls of two Portland buildings and was trapped inside of the walls. The woman was ultimately rescued by firefighters, but questions remain as to how she fell into the gap in the first place.

Our Portland injury attorneys know that property owners have an obligation to keep their property safe and to prevent people on their property from becoming injured. In this case, the woman fell between two exterior buildings, so whether one or both of the building owners or occupiers could be held liable will depend upon how she fell and whether any of the building owners were responsible in any way for creating (or not correcting) conditions that led to the fall.

The Obligations of Property Owners

Slip and fall incidents happen far too often in Oregon, with people falling because of wet floors, ice and snow tracked into buildings, cracked sidewalks, slippery surfaces and a whole host of other dangers. In most cases, these slip and falls happen within a building or on public property such as a sidewalk.

In this unique case, the Portland woman did not fall within a building but instead she fell between two buildings. According to Oregon Live, the space between two buildings was reachable in one of two ways. One way is from the roof of the building next to the parking garage. The other is from a narrow adjacent wall along the back of the garage.

The owner of that property could be held liable only if there was some known hazard or danger that the property owner either was aware of or should have been aware of with reasonable inspection. For example, if the narrow wall along the back of the garage was constructed in such a way that it was possible for someone walking near it or leaning over it to fall, this could be considered a defect and a danger to patrons.  The key question in any injury lawsuit arising out of the incident would be whether the property owner(s) were negligent in any way that led to the fall and any resulting harm.

However, it is also important to note that a spokeswoman for one of the buildings involved questioned how the incident occurred while simultaneously appearing to blame the victim. This seems to indicate that the woman may have been doing something she shouldn’t have been or engaging in dangerous behavior.

If a person does engage in wrongful or dangerous behavior, such as trespassing, this does not necessarily disqualify the individual from recovering compensation in a premises liability case. The person’s behavior would need to be considered in light of the situation, as well as in light of whether a property owner knew there were trespassers and knew they were in danger. Contributory negligence law in Oregon allows a victim to make a recovery as long as they were not at a greater percentage of fault than the party against whom recovery is sought.

If you or a loved one has been injured on commercial property in the Portland area, contact  Zbinden & Curtis. Call (503) 287-5000.

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