Water leaked through a bedroom ceiling in a downstairs condominium unit causing a small amount of damage and a significant amount of inconvenience for the owner. Approximately one year earlier, a similar event took place as a result of a frozen condensate line in the upstairs unit owner’s air conditioner, which caused water to back up and drip down through the floor into a common area between the floors and then through the ceiling of the lower unit, causing some of the ceiling drywall to fall. When part of the ceiling fell a second time, the association installed a drip pan that would automatically shut off the air conditioner if the pan filled. The total cost was less than $300. When the association sought to recover the $300 from the upstairs unit owner, he denied liability and claimed that the problem did not arise from his air conditioner, but from the duct work that ran between the floor of the upper unit and the ceiling of the lower unit, and that responsibility for the problem fell on the association. After the association filed suit to collect the debt, the court ordered mediation and the association offered to settle for $300 plus $1,200 of attorney fees and costs (less than one-half of what it had actually spent). The unit owner offered nothing at mediation “as a matter of principle,” and took this position despite his attorney recommending a different strategy. The association’s expert opined that the problem originated with the air conditioner. The unit owner did not have any expert to contradict that testimony. The association ultimately succeeded at trial, with the court awarding the association $300 in damages and approximately $36,000 in attorney fees (all of the attorney fees sought by the association).
Lesson: It pays to be reasonable and listen to your attorney.
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