Last week, Stutman Law’s attorneys won a $282,287.25 verdict following a jury trial in Jackson County, Michigan. Michael Hopkins and George Matz from Stutman Law tried the case against the Defendant, Williams Welding & Repair, Inc., following a fire at a 57,000 square-foot industrial building. Prior to the fire, Williams Welding had been hired to demolish a large piece of industrial equipment inside the building known as a shot blast booth. The Defendant used oxyacetylene torches to dismantle the equipment. In doing so, Williams Welding’s employees ignited a rubber liner concealed within the walls of the equipment. The resulting fire filled every inch of the massive building with thick, black smoke. Stutman Law’s client paid $282,287.25 to remediate the smoke damage.
At trial, Williams Welding argued that it was not responsible for causing the fire because its employees attempted to identify combustibles within the shot blast booth but were unable to do so because the rubber liner was concealed within the walls of the equipment. Stutman Law refuted that defense by pointing out that Williams Welding’s work directly violated numerous national and state regulations, local laws and industry standards pertaining to “hot work,” all of which required the Defendant to identify and protect combustibles. Stutman Law also argued that the Defendant’s “burn and hope” philosophy on fire safety was illogical and unreasonable on its face.
On the issue of damages, the Defendant claimed it was not responsible for damage to the 108 year-old metal fabricating business because the building contained preexisting dirt and soot from years of heavy manufacturing. This argument was unconvincing in light of testimony by the remediation contractor, who explained that the preferred method of cleaning the smoke and soot damage from the fire was a process known as soda blasting, and that process did not take any additional time, effort or money to remove the preexisting dirt along with the soot damage from the fire. The insured then testified that he was not comfortable asking his employees to work in an environment contaminated with toxic rubber smoke, underscoring the importance of the post-fire remediation.
After the two day trial, the jury deliberated for twenty minutes before delivering a verdict in favor of Stutman Law’s client for the full amount of claimed damages. Prior to the verdict, the Defendant’s largest settlement offer was $35,000.00. Under Michigan Law, based on the adverse verdict, the Defendant will also be subject to sanctions including attorneys’ fees and expenses.