A jury awarded $28.2 million to a woman who was poisoned by carbon monoxide at the Sunridge Apartments in Casper in what could be one of the largest civil judgments in state history.
“What I have been told is it’s the largest personal injury verdict in the state of Wyoming,” said Tyson Logan, an attorney from the Jackson law firm that represented the woman, the Spence Law Firm.
Amber Lompe, now 23, was poisoned by her furnace in 2011. She has a permanent brain injury that affects her memory, concentration, processing speed, attention and ability to multi-task, Lompe said Friday afternoon.
“When I moved in there, I assumed everything was checked out and it was safe for me to live in,” she said.
Before the poisoning, Sunridge’s owner and manager ignored warnings that the furnaces were dangerous and needed to be fixed or replaced. After the poisoning, the 30-year-old furnace in Lompe’s apartment was removed. Logan said the removal of the unit was part of a cover-up.
On Dec. 20, a jury returned a verdict against the apartment owner and property management company in federal court in Cheyenne.
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson entered the judgment against defendants Sunridge Partners LLC of Newport Beach, Calif., and Apartment Management Consultants LLC of Salt Lake City.
State law requires landlords to provide tenants safe housing, including safe and working heat, Logan said.
The judgment will benefit all renters in Wyoming, Logan said.
“What it means is that landlords actually have to live up to their responsibilities to provide a safe place for tenants, not just a soft promise in Wyoming, and landlords will be held accountable if they refuse to do that,” he said.
The Star-Tribune tried calling Apartment Management Consultants but the number was disconnected. The newspaper called Sunridge in Casper and was given the phone number of a regional manager in Colorado, who did not return a message. The newspaper also left a message with a Fort Collins, Colo., attorney who is listed on court documents as having represented the defendants. He did not return a message.
Lompe recalled waking up on Feb. 1, 2011 and not feeling well. She was exhausted. She had a headache and was dizzy. There was ringing in her ears. As time went on, she became disoriented. She was calling people for advice but couldn’t keep straight whom she was calling. She lost track of time.
Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless, Logan said. But Lompe was rescued because in addition to leaking carbon monoxide, an exhaust gas was leaking. It smelled. An apartment employee, having been poisoned in the complex a year before, recognized it, Logan said.
“One of the doctors that testified said that based on the calculations of how concentrated the gas was in her apartment when they pulled her out, she would have been dead in 60 to 90 minutes if they wouldn’t have gotten there,” Logan said.
Lompe has seen physicians all over the country for her conditions. She described a number of problems that she didn’t have before the poisoning. She began locking keys in her car so often that her loved ones keep copies of her keys. She forgets basic tasks that she could remember before, such as making a list before going to the market.
Litigation started in May 2012. The trial began in the beginning of December and lasted three weeks, Logan said.
The judgment is split between the owners and management company. Sunridge will have to pay $750,000 in compensatory damages, which is the cost the court determined it owes Lompe for health she’s lost, and Sunridge will have to pay her $3 million in punitive damages, which is an amount to punish and deter the company from future bad behavior. Apartment Management Consultants will have to pay $1.95 million in compensatory damages and $22.5 million in punitive damages, Logan said.
The money “will help me be able to do the things that I still want to do, that I still aspire to do,” Lompe said. “But my reality is my day-to-day life is different than it used to be.”
Lompe still lives in Casper but not at Sunridge. She works as a secretary. She doesn’t plan to quit her job despite the settlement. She hopes to attend college, with accommodations, and go into the medical field, which has always interested her.
“Get your own carbon monoxide detector," she offered as advice to renters. "Everyone who knows what happened to me now has one. And just be aware of what is going on, ask the questions that you need to ask.”