A federal judge has upheld a jury’s $28.2 million damage award to a woman who suffered a permanent brain injury from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty furnace in the apartment she was renting in Casper, Wyo. Amber Lompe filed suit against apartment owner Sunridge Partners LLC and Apartment Management Consultants of Salt Lake City. It was alleged in the suit that the defendants knew about a previous carbon monoxide leak and failed to repair or replace the furnaces before she was poisoned in February 2011. A jury awarded Ms. Lompe $2.7 million in compensatory damages and $25.5 million in punitive damages in December 2013. The apartment owners and managers appealed, claiming that the jury reached a “runaway verdict” based on evidence and witnesses they shouldn’t have been allowed to consider.
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson rejected those claims, stating in his order that the damages awarded were significant, but not shocking or unconstitutional. Judge Johnson stated further in his order:
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 poisoning could have disabled her for the rest of her life or could’ve been fatal. It is unquestioned that the jury viewed the defendants’ conduct as egregious, warranting a greater award of punitive damages.
Ms. Lompe suffered brain injuries that affect her memory, concentration, processing speed, attention and ability to multi-task. The defendants, in their appeal, argued that jurors did not hear that Ms. Lompe failed to maintain the detectors in her apartment and had she done so, could have prevented her own injuries.
Ms. Lompe’s response points out that semi-annual inspection reports disclosed missing carbon monoxide alarms in many apartments and that weeks after she was poisoned, the majority of the apartments did not have functioning alarms. The defendants plan to appeal.
Sources: Insurance Journal and The Casper Star Tribune