Report: Jury awards $73M to man burned in gas line explosion

A Fulton County jury this week awarded $73 million to a man severely burned when a gas line inside his Sandy Springs apartment, the Daily Report reported.

On May 29, 2010, Stephen Wells opened the door of his apartment and was engulfed in flames after a loud explosion, according to his attorney. Wells ran outside and fell onto the grass calling for help from neighbors. The former teacher was treated in the Grady Memorial Hospital burn unit, according to the report.

The explosion was caused by an uncapped gas line, possibly due to maintenance worker’s mistake, Wells’ attorneys argued. The defendants said Wells had turned on the shutoff valve during an unsuccessful effort to light the apartment’s hot water heater and neglected to turn it off before leaving the unit.

On Thursday, a jury awarded Wells $17.9 million to compensate for his injuries, lost earnings and expenses, which included $226,000 in medical bills, according to the report. The jury later returned with an award of $7 million in attorney fees and $47.9 million in punitive damages against the apartment complex owner, Aslan Commons, and management company, WSE, according to The Daily Report.

“The plaintiff in this case suffered a terrible accident,” WSE President Darin Collier told the newspaper. “We deeply regret that this occurred,” he said.

But, “We strongly disagree with [the] verdict. We expect it will be set aside because of numerous errors at trial,” Collier said.

“Both sides would say the case was well tried,” said Pete Law, who represented Wells, along with Michael Moran and Christopher Newbern, all of Law & Moran. “My client continues to suffer from the horror of this event. He’s going to live with the effects of it forever.”