A jury in Atlanta, Ga., found in favor of Plaintiff Steve Wells, who was severely injured in an explosion in his apartment on May 31, 2010, caused by an uncapped dryer gas line. As a result of the explosion, Mr. Wells was burned on more than 20 percent of his body, requiring skin grafts. The explosion also damaged his vocal cords, leaving him with permanent injuries to his voice. He also was forced to quit his teaching career at McGinnis Day School, where he had been head of IT. The jury awarded $17.9 million in compensatory damages and $47.9 million in punitive damages. The jury also awarded just over $7 million in attorneys’ fees, for a total verdict of $72,960,000.
During the course of the trial, Plaintiffs’ lawyers presented evidence to the jury that the owners and managers of the Edgewater at Sandy Springs apartment complex failed to establish policies to inspect apartments to identify and correct uncapped gas lines on their premises. They allowed Mr. Wells to begin moving into a vacant apartment without first inspecting the unit, and therefore failed to inspect the gas dryer line, which was uncapped. While Mr. Wells was away, gas began flowing into the apartment. When he returned and entered through the front door, the gas ignited, sending a fireball through the apartment and seriously injuring Mr. Wells.
It was discovered that the Defendants did not have any policies or procedures in place for capping a gas line when a resident moved out and removed a gas dryer, and they did not train or supervise their employees on inspecting or capping gas lines prior to a new tenant moving into an apartment. While investigating Mr. Wells’ case, the Plaintiffs’ lawyers found that there were uncapped gas lines in 57 other apartments at the property.
Upon post-trial motions by Defendants, the Court reduced the punitive verdict to $250,000, based on Georgia’s statutory cap. Plaintiff is challenging the constitutionality of the cap in the Supreme Court of Georgia. The Plaintiff in this case was represented by Peter Law, Mike Moran and Chris Newbern, who are with the Law & Moran law firm in Atlanta, Ga. They did a very good job for their client, and ultimately helped ensure the safety of all residents at the apartment complex involved in this case.
Sources: CNN and The Atlanta-Journal Constitution
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