$28 Million Verdict in Carbon Monoxide Case

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A federal judge on Oct. 21, 2014 upheld a jury’s decision to award $28.2 million to a Casper Wyoming woman who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty furnace in the largest civil judgment in Wyoming’s history. Amber Lompe was poisoned by carbon monoxide gas from an old, neglected furnace while she lived at Sunridge Apartments in Casper in 2011. U.S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson rejected claims by Sunridge’s owner and manager that the jury reached a runaway verdict based on evidence and witnesses they shouldn’t have been allowed to consider. The jury awarded $3M in compensatory damages and $25M in punitive damage.

Judge Johnson’ carefully analyzed opinion lays bare the complete absurdity of capping non-economic [pain and suffering] damages at $750,000 and punitive damages at $500,000 in Tennessee pursuant to the TN GOP’s power grab (and terribly misnamed) “Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011.”

The Court stated:

“In this case, the Court hesitates to interfere with the jury’s determination as to
punitive damages.The harm here was not mere economic harm or injury. The injury was
physical; if the plaintiff had been in her apartment even minutes longer, she likely would
have lost consciousness and the carbon monoxide exposure could have disabled her for
the rest of her life or could have been fatal. The potential for similar injuries to others was
great where the defendants failed to correct known problems with furnaces in the
apartment complex, exposing other tenants to carbon monoxide poisoning as well. The
evidence of defendants’ wealth was proper, if the goals of punishment and deterrence are
to be facilitated. A defendant may be punished for malfeasance and conduct similar to
that which harmed plaintiff. This is the only conduct that is relevant to the reprehensibility
analysis. State Farm, 123 S.Ct. at 1524.The Court here acknowledges that the award of punitive damages is significant and far greater than that usually seen in this district. In all probability, the Court likely has not made such a large award for punitive damages. But, it is not the Court’s province to second-guess the jury’s findings where the award is within constitutional bounds and does not shock the judicial conscience. It is unquestioned that the jury viewed the defendants’conduct as egregious, warranting a greater award of punitive damages. While surprising , the award does not shock the judicial conscience nor is the Court compelled to conclude that the jury’s award should be upset, based on the facts and circumstances of the defendants’ conduct and the harm to the plaintiff and potential harm to others. There is no irresistible inference that passion , prejudice, corruption or other improper cause invaded the trial. The Court will not belabor the matter further and will not grant the
request for a remittitur or new trial.”

The full opinion is here:

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