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Withers v. Wilson

March 4, 2010


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, (CAD8874-06), (Hon. Brook Hedge, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Belson, Senior Judge

Submitted November 12, 2009

Before REID, Associate Judge, and FERREN and BELSON, Senior Judges.

This is an appeal from a judgment in favor of appellee, Elizabeth Wilson, in the amount of $7,256.98, representing damages allegedly done to a stove, a microwave oven, and a hardwood floor by appellants, Mr. and Mrs. Withers, while residing as tenants in Ms. Wilson's house for a period of four years. Because the trial judge did not apply the appropriate measure of damages, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings with respect to damages.


Appellee, Ms. Elizabeth Wilson, resided at 1807 Second Street, Northwest, from 1998 until 2000. In 2000, Ms. Wilson installed a new stove and microwave oven in her home. That same year she also removed the vinyl kitchen flooring and had the original hardwood kitchen floor redone, but did not have the other hardwood floors redone. She had planned to continue living in her home indefinitely, but her job required her to relocate temporarily. She decided to rent the house until she returned. Appellants Charles and Roslyn Withers were tenants in the house from May 2002 until August 2006. Prior to their tenancy Ms. Wilson had one other tenant who lived in the house for approximately eighteen months. Ms. Wilson moved back into her home in 2007.

During their tenancy Mr. and Mrs. Withers used Ms. Wilson's microwave and stove in such fashion that neither was operable when she moved back in. When Mr. and Mrs. Withers moved in the stove was a two-year-old, self-cleaning gas and electric stove in good working order; when they moved out it was clogged up with grease and the stove's gas vents and electricity had stopped working. As the stove could not be fixed, Ms. Wilson purchased a new stove for $1,690.99. The microwave, which was also approximately two years old when the appellants moved into the house, had also been in good working order. However, when Mr. and Mrs. Withers moved out in 2006 it was not operable. The vents were filthy and, although Ms. Wilson cleaned them, she could not make the microwave work. In 2006, Ms. Wilson replaced it with a new microwave that had a base price of $599.99, which did not include the protection agreement or the delivery charge.

The hardwood kitchen floor was in good condition in 2002 when Mr. and Mrs. Withers moved in. A portion of the kitchen floor was damaged because Mr. and Mrs. Withers repeatedly pulled the stove away from the wall and pushed it back in. This caused scratches and deep gouges.

A leak in the ceiling also caused some damage to the kitchen floor. Ms. Wilson testified that water was allowed to collect on the floors for some time before she was notified of the problem. Mr. Withers testified, however, that prior to notifying Ms. Wilson of the leak, and immediately after noticing it, he notified the management company. He stated that it took them approximately two to three months to repair the leak.

After Mr. and Mrs. Withers were evicted and Ms. Wilson noticed the water damage and the damage caused by the movement of the stove, Ms. Wilson replaced some water damaged wood in the kitchen floor, and had the floor sanded and stained. She also restained the rest of the hardwood floors on the lower level of the house so that they would match the kitchen floor, which was not separated from the floors of the other rooms by a door or similar threshold. In addition, she refinished the floors on the second floor because they were damaged by the water leaking from the ceiling. She paid a total of $9,432.00 to have the floors throughout the house redone.

Liability and other damages having already been conceded and set forth in a partial consent judgment for Ms. Wilson, the only issue at trial was the amount of additional damages Ms. Wilson should be awarded against the appellants. Ms. Wilson requested judgment in the amount of $11, 799.77, representing the combined cost of the new stove, new microwave and the work done on the hardwood floors on both levels of the house.

In closing argument, defense counsel pointed out that there was no evidence as to the cost of the original stove that was purchased in 2000 and installed in the home, beyond the fact that it was new at that time and under warranty. The same was true of the microwave. There was also no evidence presented at trial as to how much the original stove and microwave would still be worth in 2006 if in good operating condition. Mr. and Mrs. Withers argued that the floor would have sustained normal wear and tear from the time that the vinyl was pulled up in 1999 until the time that they moved out in 2006, and that by recovering the replacement cost of the floor Ms. Wilson would be put in a better position than she would otherwise have been in.

The court credited Ms. Wilson's testimony that the microwave and stove were damaged beyond repair and had to be replaced. Ultimately the court awarded Ms. Wilson damages in the amount of $7,256.98, representing the cost of replacing the stove and microwave with a brand new and similar stove and microwave, as well as the cost of refinishing the entire first floor, but not the second floor, of the house. The trial judge stated that the consequence of resurfacing only the kitchen floor would be "jarring" because the entire first floor "was one continuous area," and thus Mr. and Mrs. Withers were liable to Ms. Wilson for the cost of fixing the kitchen floor and the cost of restaining the other lower level floors to match the kitchen. The trial judge was satisfied that Ms. Wilson was entitled to receive the total cost of the replacement appliances because they were similar to the appliances that the appellants destroyed. She stated that she understood ...

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