A woman who claims she injured herself after falling into a septic tank filed a $360,000 lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court last week against her former landlord.

A woman who claims she injured herself after falling into a septic tank filed a $360,000 lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court last week against her former landlord.

Rachelle Davis alleges a rotting plywood manhole cover for the tank gave way on Feb. 26, 2007, when she stepped on it. The suit is filed against the owner of the Ashland property, Bernard Zieminski, and the property manager, Sharon Roach of Available Rentals.

The suit alleges that Davis suffered low back injuries, soft tissue damage in her neck, back and right leg as well as an infected right knee and other health problems.

Tim Williams,(see correction note below) an attorney with the Medford legal firm of Dwyer Williams and Potter LLP, said medical records confirm that Davis was injured and was covered in sewer water on the day of her fall.

"She was pretty much covered in human excrement," said Williams. "It was all up her leg and soaked into her clothing."

Williams said Davis' right leg went into the septic tank while her other leg stuck outside. "It caused a wrenching of the leg," he said.

Davis will undergo surgery to repair damaged nerves in her back and leg that have caused her to lose bowel and bladder control, said Williams.

The amount being asked for in the lawsuit could be increased depending on the outcome of the surgery, he said.

Zieminski, who said he's turned the matter over to his insurance company, said the suit is ridiculous.

"It's a scam," he said. "It's just one of those tenants who want to get a free buck."

Despite the allegations in the suit, Zieminski said, "I'm a pretty good landlord. If there's a problem I take care of it."

Jackson County had cited Zieminski for having a failed septic tank at the house, 615 Washington St., 16 years earlier and required him to hook it to the Ashland sewer system. Since the situation wasn't corrected, the county fined Zieminski $10,000 last year for the continued violation, which he appealed.

The suit claims the plywood cover was concealed under a layer of dirt and was in an area accessible to tenants and visitors on the property.

Davis slipped when she stepped on an area where there was leaking sewage, causing her to slide onto the concealed plywood cover that gave way, the suit alleges.

Zieminski owns about 65 properties in Jackson County, including five properties on Washington Street. Zieminski has proposed building a destination resort on land he owns north of Central Point. He has also proposed building an affordable housing project to the east of Medford.

The county fined Zieminski $600 in August 2007 for each of the six orchards he owns for failing to take care of pest infestations. Zieminski has said he did apply insecticide to the trees.

Zieminski said the opening to the septic system was only 10 inches by 10 inches or 10 inches by 12. "It's not big enough for a body," he said. He also said he doubted Davis' leg could fit into the hole.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Correction: Tim Williams was identified by an incorrect name in the original version of this story. This version has been corrected.