Trials & Litigation

Punitive verdict for carbon monoxide poisoning was 'excessive and arbitrary,' 10th Circuit says

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A federal appeals court has embraced a 1-to-1 ratio of compensatory-to-punitive damages in a Wyoming renter’s lawsuit over a brain injury due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The April 1 decision by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cuts the punitive verdict for Amber Lompe from $25.5 million against two defendants to $1.95 million against one defendant, the National Law Journal (sub. req.) reports. How Appealing links to the opinion (PDF).

Lompe was a 20-year-old college student at the time of her injury from a malfunctioning furnace. Jurors had awarded Lompe $3 million in punitive damages against the owners of Sunridge Apartments in Casper, Wyoming, and $22.5 million against the property management company.

The 10th Circuit said the evidence was insufficient to submit the issue of punitive damages to the jury against the apartment owners, and the $22.5 million punitive damages verdict against the property-management company was “grossly excessive and arbitrary in violation of the due process clause.”

The court reduced the punitive award against the property management company to $1.95 million—the amount of compensatory damages it had to pay after adjustments for Lompe’s contributory negligence and its 65 percent apportioned responsibility for the negligence.

Lompe has suffered from cognitive deficits, chronic headaches, sleep disturbances and emotional disorders as a result of the poisoning.

The National Law Journal calls the decision “a victory for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been pushing for a 1-to-1 ratio” as the presumptive maximum.

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