October 27, 2014 — The Billings Gazette reports that U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson has upheld a record-setting $28.5 million jury verdict in favor of a 23 year-old woman who suffered permanent brain damage after a faulty furnace leaked carbon monoxide in her apartment.
Judge Johnson rejected the owners’ claims that a “runaway jury” awarded excessive damages, which included $3 million in compensation and $22.5 million in punitive damages. He also rejected claims that improper evidence and witnesses were presented to the jury.
The incident occurred in Casper, Wyoming in February 2011. The woman, Amber Lompe, awoke feeling dizzy and confused. Though she had trouble walking, she was able to get out of the apartment. Subsequent testing detected carbon monoxide at 500 parts per million, more than 10-times the safe limit.
Lompe was lucky to get out alive, according to her attorneys, who say another 15 minutes would have caused her to lose consciousness and death within the hour.
She underwent oxygen therapy and physical rehabilitation, but still had trouble with memory, concentration, processing speed, attention, multi-tasking, chronic headaches, and trouble sleeping. These complications of brain damage make it more difficult for her to take classes at Casper College or work.
The lawsuit was filed against the Utah-based owners of Sunridge Apartments and Apartment Management Consultants. According to attorneys, the owners knew the 30 year-old furnace was defective but failed to repair or replace it. Lawyers also accused the owners of willfully destroying evidence by removing the defective furnace within 10 days of the incident, fearing a lawsuit.
This is not the first time victims of a carbon monoxide leak have been awarded substantial compensation. In 2010, $34 million was awarded to 20 workers at a Ruth’s Christ Steak House at the Pier 5 Hotel in Baltimore. When firefighters responded to the incident in February 2008, they detected levels of carbon monoxide at 700 parts per million, according to the Daily Record.