Greenfield,MA- A Franklin Superior Court jury late Thursday awarded verdicts totaling $4.5 million to two people in a decision against E. Osterman Gas Inc., of Palmer.
The civil suits by George Jolly and Carol Russell alleged that improper actions on the company’s part led to an explosion which caused severe injuries to the two, who lived in an Athol apartment in 2002.
John Stobierski, a lawyer for Russell – now of Fitchburg, to whom the jury awarded $3 million – said he was told by court staff this is the largest single award ever in Franklin County.
The jury awarded $1.5 million to Jolly, of Athol, who was represented by Joseph Swartz and Jonathan Sweet.
The trial lasted more than three weeks in front of Judge Peter A. Velis.
Stobierski, who had as co-counsel Danielle Barshak, said the negligence occurred when the propane delivery person for the company failed to check for an open gas line and failed to conduct an adequate leak check, either of which would have revealed an open gas line.
The explosion happened when Jolly tried to light a cigarette, not knowing that propane sinks to the floor and loses its odor over time, Stobierski said.
He said Russell was burned over 20 percent of her body, had two skins grafts, has significant scarring on her legs and right arm, has post traumatic stress disorder, and can no longer work as a special needs aide and foster mother.
Stobierski said Jolly had significant burns on his hands needing skin grafts, facial and neck burns, plus his lungs were burnt since he was inhaling trying to light the cigarette as the explosion happened. He was in a medically induced coma for a month at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Stobierski said he hopes the case helps educate the public on the properties of propane, including that it sinks to the floor and can lose its smell. He said in Franklin County and other rural areas not on a gas line, propane is a popular heat source.
There is another stage in the case in which Velis will decide if there was a violation of the Consumer Protection Act, Stobierski said. A judge’s decision that the act was violated could result in double damages and attorney fees.