$7.49M Awarded to Montana Group Poisoned by Faulty Heater

April 6, 2009

Eighteen former Job Corps volunteers were awarded a total of $7.49 million in damages Thursday for brain injuries they suffered when a heating system malfunctioned and leaked carbon monoxide into their dormitory in Anaconda, Mont.

A District Court jury ruled unanimously against Lennox Industries Inc. of Richardson, Texas, saying the corporation manufactured a line of defective heating systems that led to the poisoning of the volunteers.

The plaintiffs were asleep in the dormitory in August 2004 when the defective piping of a CompleteHeat furnace system malfunctioned, leaking the odorless gas throughout the building. The victims, many of them teenagers at the time, suffered permanent brain damage and other injuries.

“One night they were all sleeping in their dorm rooms and the next thing they know they’re being airlifted all over the country,” said Jackson Hole, Wyo., attorney James K. Lubing, who helped try the case. “Some were unconscious, some were having seizures, the whole gamut. But they all suffered significant poisoning.”

A spokesman for Lennox did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Evidence presented at trial, which began Jan. 5 before District Judge Ed McLean, showed that Lennox distributed 40,000 furnaces of the same model and installed them in businesses and homes throughout the country.

The lawsuit was filed in February 2006 and sought damages for brain injuries, physical and emotional pain, loss of established course of life, loss of earning capacity and medical bills.

Anderson’s Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. of Missoula, Mont., installed the defective furnace and was initially named in the complaint. But the company reached a settlement before the trial.

The 12-person jury found that Lennox was responsible for 70 percent of the negligence, while Anderson’s was responsible for 30 percent. The jury awarded individual payments ranging from $268,000 to $591,000.

Two additional plaintiffs are serving in the military in Iraq and their evidence was not presented at trial. Their cases are pending.

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