NEWFANE — Almost 60 years ago, Ursula Dalem, now 93, and her husband, Oskar, built their eponymous alpine-style chalet overlooking the center of West Brattleboro.
A little more than two years ago, Dalem, who has outlived her husband by 44 years, fell down a set of stairs at the former chalet, breaking a number of bones and putting her in the hospital for 41 days.
Exactly what happened on the night of Nov. 11, 2020, and who is to blame for Dalem’s injuries is under scrutiny by a judge in Windham Superior Court, Civil Division, where Dalem has sued Windham & Windsor Housing Trust, which bought the former motel and spent $2.8 million turning rooms into 35 apartments with supportive housing and converting the kitchen into a dining and common area.
The suit was originally scheduled for trial in April, but Dalem’s Attorney, Ted Kramer of Brattleboro, told Judge Michael Kainen on Monday that he has several depositions to conduct, including one with the general contractor who was in charge of the building’s conversion.
During that construction, the complaint alleges, contractors often left doors unlocked at the end of the work day and Dalem had to “walk down flights of stairs, at night and during the winter, through the active construction sites to close and lock the doors to secure her living space.”
At 11 p.m. on Nov. 11, 2020, wrote Kramer, Dalem was attempting to lock a door when an unsecured door that construction workers had left unhinged fell on Dalem, knocking her “face first down a flight of stairs.”
As a result of the fall, states the complaint, Dalem suffered a number of broken bones and lacerations, including rib fractures, a fractured spine, a broken right upper arm, forearm and wrist, a broken hip and a broken foot, wrote Kramer. After her 41-day hospitalization she required weeks of physical and occupational therapies, he added.
Dalem is seeking $750,000 from WWHT.
Representing WWHT, Bonnie Badgewick, of Hayes, Windish & Bardgewick, wrote that WWHT is not liable for Dalem’s injuries.
“The damages of which [Dalem] complains were caused by the acts or neglects of others for whom [WWHT] is not responsible in law or fact,” she wrote.
During Monday’s hearing, Kramer said he still needs to get on the record statements from some of the residents of the property as well as get the general contractor under oath, though Badgewick told Kainen she expected that attorneys for the general contractor would attempt to quash any request for an interview.
Kainen said he’d deal with a motion to quash if and when it was filed.
Kramer also told the judge that mediation had been attempted earlier in the case to no success, though the two sides might “revisit mediation” after all the depositions have been taken.
While mediation might resolve the complaint, said Badgewick, she told the judge to expect a motion for summary judgment from WWHT. She also noted that WWHT expects to amend its answer to the complaint once discovery is completed.
Built in the mid-1960s, Dalem’s Chalet had been a mainstay in local lodging until Dalem sold the building to WWHT in 2020.
Dalem agreed to sell the building “that she had built, owned and lived in since the 1960s to the [WWHT] on the condition that, amongst others, she be allowed to live in her apartment in the building for the remainder of her life,” states the complaint filed in state court.
Kramer argued that WWHT failed in its duty of exercising “reasonable care to provide and maintain the hallways, stairways and other common areas in a safe condition so Mrs. Dalem would not be unnecessarily or unreasonably exposed to danger, and to mark and maintain said and surrounding areas properly so as not to create a condition dangerous to her ...”
In its answer, WWHT questioned whether, as stated in the complaint, “Dalem was acting in a careful, cautious, and prudent manner, and was free from any contributory negligence” when she fell down.
Badgewick wrote that WWHT also denied its conduct toward Dalem “was rife with malice, ill will and/or a wanton disregard for [her] safety, well-being, and integrity,” or that punitive damages are warranted.