A Baldwin County jury has returned a $50 million verdict in favor of the family of a Daphne man killed when the water heater in his home exploded. The trial lasted for over 2 weeks and the issue of fault was hotly contested. The 55-year-old husband and father had gone to check on the natural gas-fueled water heater in his family's garage on July 1, 2005. It was alleged and proved that the heater exploded because of a faulty valve. Milwaukee-based A.O. Smith, which built the heater, blamed the blast on a natural gas leak in the garage. The jury obviously didn't buy that argument.
The family had moved into the single-story brick home only a few months before the explosion occurred. Over a period of time, the family encountered a series of troubles with the water heater. In fact, there had been a call for service on the heater just days before the explosion. A repairman had come out and tried to fix a valve. It was proved at trial that a "used, old worn-out valve" had caused a clog, creating the potential for an explosion
On the day the trial began, a plumbing company that had worked on the heater, and the contractor that built the house, settled with the family for $1 million each. Two of the five original defendants – an A.O. Smith representative and his worker – also settled for $1,000 each after the trial had gone for several days. These were pro tanto settlements and I believe the remaining defendants elected to let the jury know about them.
Buddy Brown, a lawyer from Mobile, along with Skip Finkbohner, David Wirtes, George Dent, and David Cain from his firm, represented the family. These lawyers did an outstanding job in developing and trying this case. The outcome was a tremendous result for a family who had suffered a great loss. It's good to see justice done in the case!