Death of man who fell from 14-inch deck results in $37,500 settlement

The family of a 77-year-old man — who died after falling backward while trying to step onto a deck — has agreed to settle its $4.3 million lawsuit against a Seaside vacation condominium for a fraction of that amount.

The family of David Lloyd Roach dropped its lawsuit in exchange for $37,500. The civil trial had been set to start last week in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Salem attorney Jeffrey Thayer declined to comment. Thayer represented Roach’s estate and two of his adult sons who had sued on behalf of the estate. Portland attorney Carl Rodrigues also declined to comment. He represented the Tides by the Sea owner association and then-manager Angie Hummell.

Roach, a Washington resident, was renting several units at the 51-unit oceanfront vacation condo complex with his wife, his sons and other extended family in August 2013. They had been there several days when Roach tried to step from the grass onto the deck of one of the units. The deck was 14 inches off the ground.

Roach stubbed his toe on the edge of the deck because he didn’t step high enough, according to the deposition of one of Roach’s sons. He fell backward to the ground, striking his buttocks and then his head.

Roach didn’t lose consciousness and said he was fine. But at some point later in the day, he said he felt nauseous and started vomiting. His family drove him to a Seaside emergency room.

Roach had suffered subdural hematoma — bleeding near his brain — and was airlifted to St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, according to court papers written by the defense. He was in and out of a nursing home and a Washington hospital, before dying on Nov. 24, 2013, because of his injuries.

The suit faulted Tides by the Sea and its manager for what it claimed was a major design flaw — lack of hand rails or a railing around the deck that would have allowed users to get onto and off of it safely. The defense had planned to call an expert witness who would testify that building codes don’t require a railing around such a low deck.

The suit also faulted the condo association and its manager for placing Adirondack chairs on such a narrow deck — leading Roach to try to get to one of the chairs from the side of the deck because there was little room to navigate on the skinny deck.

According to the defense, the deck was 4-feet-4-inches wide and 12 feet long.

In court papers asking a judge to dismiss the suit before trial, the defense argued that Roach and his family had vacationed at Tides by the Sea at least three times in the past 10 years and were familiar with its decks. At least one of Roach’s sons thought the deck was a danger but didn’t alert other family members to that, the defense said.

The attorney for Roach’s estate argued that the responsibility to create a safe deck rested with Tides by the Sea, and a plaintiff’s expert planned to testify that the 14-inch rise from grass to the deck’s surface was inherently dangerous.

The problem could have been solved by creating a step across the entire front of the deck, like the decks on units across the courtyard, the estate argued.

In September, Judge Pro-tem Eric Neiman agreed that the question of liability should be presented to a jury. That led to this month’s settlement. The trial had been scheduled to last six days, and end this week.

Read the defense’s summary of its case here.

Read the plaintiff’s summary here.

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