Emerald Point, LLC v. HawkinsAnnotate this Case
The carbon monoxide detector in an apartment sounded. A maintenance worker replaced the batteries; the alarm later sounded again. The following morning, tenants called Virginia Natural Gas (VNG). VNG’s inspector measured the apartment’s CO levels as hazardous, turned off the gas, and “red-tagged” the furnace. A maintenance worker later declared that he had checked the furnace and vent pipes for leaks, found an attic vent pipe loose, reattached it, and rechecked the CO level, Although not licensed to make heating system repairs, he used screws to secure the sections, contrary to specifications. A code enforcement officer determined that CO levels were within the acceptable range, without visiting the attic or inspecting the equipment. Weeks later, the alarm sounded again. A VNG inspector red-tagged the furnace. With a new furnace installed, the CO levels remained high. The adjoining apartment's furnace was venting into the attic. When the flue was repaired, CO levels dropped. The tenants suffered injuries. In their suit, the court ruled that the tenants failed to establish the requisite level of negligence for punitive damages. They were permitted, over the landlord’s objection, to increase their prayers for compensatory damages. The jury awarded three tenants $200,000 each and a fourth $3,500,000. The Supreme Court of Virginia reversed in part and remanded for a new trial. The court erred in admitting the testimony of an environmental medicine specialist, which had not been disclosed under Rule 4:1(b)(4)(A)(i); erred in admitting testimony regarding alleged defects in the installation of the new furnace--such defects were after-the-fact and not relevant; in permitting amendment of the prayers for relief; in granting a spoliation instruction with regard to tenants’ inability to inspect the furnace.