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Fulton County, GA

This premises liability suit resulted from a man severely burned in a fireball gas explosion at his apartment. The apartment complex denied liability.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendant owners and managers were negligent in failing to properly maintain and inspect gas lines at the apartment complex – particularly in the plaintiff’s apartment – where an uncapped gas line caused a fireball explosion that injured the plaintiff. The plaintiff suffered burns to over 22% of his body and underwent extensive treatment, including skin grafting procedures to treat his injuries. The defendants denied liability, and maintained that the plaintiff was responsible for his own injuries and damages.

The 53-year-old male plaintiff was a tenant at the defendants’ apartment complex. On the date of this incident, the plaintiff was in the process of moving from one apartment in the complex: #________ to another apartment: #________. The plaintiff’s lease on the new apartment was not to start until June 1, ________; however, the defendant’s housing specialist gave the plaintiff keys to the home three days earlier, and advised him that he could begin to move into the new apartment. The defendants failed to inspect the residence before giving the plaintiff the keys, and did not inspect the gas dryer’s line to determine whether it was capped after the previous tenant vacated. The defendants failed to advise the plaintiff of this fact, and to advise him that they had not had the gas "made ready" – or that the apartment could not be safely occupied until June 1.

On May 29, the plaintiff advised the defendants that the HVAC unit in the new apartment was not working. The defendants created an internal work order, and gave one of its employees a key to the apartment. The employee had the key through the time of the explosion. On the morning of May 31, ________, the plaintiff left the new apartment to return to his old residence to shower. As he was leaving, the employee showed up to work on the HVAC system. While the plaintiff was not in the apartment, the gas to the unit began flowing. When the plaintiff returned to his Edgewater apartment complex home and opened the front door, gas in the apartment immediately ignited and a fireball erupted from within his apartment, throwing the plaintiff out into the hallway. The plaintiff ran outside while on fire and fell on the grass screaming for help. The plaintiff suffered severe injuries as a result of the explosion. The plaintiff was taken to the burn unit of Grady Memorial Hospital and diagnosed with 1st degree burns, 2nd degree burns, and 3rd degree burns over 22% of his body, requiring skin grafts and surgery. He spent 15 days in the burn unit, and could not speak for a month following this incident due to damage to his vocal cords. He still fails to have full control over his voice as he did prior to this incident. The plaintiff filed suit in the Fulton County State Court against the defendant’s owners/managers, alleging negligence in permitting the gas to the apartment to be turned on without first inspecting to make sure that the gas lines were capped, and in failing to properly inspect and warn the plaintiff.

The defendants denied the allegations, and alleged that the plaintiff’s injuries and damages were as a result of his own negligence.

At trial, the plaintiff asserted that uncapped gas lines, a building code violation, were at fault in the explosion. The fire marshal testified that after inspecting all ________ units in the defendant’s complex, they found 57 uncapped lines. The plaintiff argued that the maintenance man had possibly inadvertently turned on the gas line while attempting to repair a problem with the hot water heater, but that the fireball would not have resulted, had the line been capped. The plaintiff further showed that the shutoff valve was in another room, instead of within sight of the end cap, another code violation. The defendant maintained that the plaintiff himself had turned on the gas, and had unsuccessfully attempted to light the hot water heater before leaving the apartment.

The plaintiff countered that he was not even in the apartment when the gas company said the line had been turned on, and did not have the tools to turn it on.

The matter was tried over a period of four days. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury deliberated for three hours and returned its verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The jury awarded the plaintiff the sum of $________ in compensatory damages, $________ in attorney fees, and $________ in punitive damages. The jury found that the defendants were ________% liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and damages.

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