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Explosion’s origin point was outside building, defense said

Type:

Verdict-Defendant

State:

Texas

Venue:

Harris County

Court:

Harris County District Court, 234th

Injury Type(s):

arm; leg; back-strain, lumbar;
neck-strain. cervical;
burns-second degree; other-laceration; other-scar and/or disfigurement; shoulder-dislocation; face/nose-face

Case Type:

Premises Liability – Fire, Apartment Building

Case Name:

Chika Odumodu, Fausti Vilatoro and Mauricio Villatoro v. Alliance PJWE LP d.b.a. Meadowchase Apartments, CenterPoint Energy Resources Corp. and Westcorp Management Group,
No. 201024570

Date:

February 19, 2014

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Chika Odumodu (Male, 31 Years), 

Fausto Villatoro (Male, 58 Years), 

Mauricio Villatoro (Male, 36 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Waverly R. Nolley;
Waverly R. Nolley & Associates;
Houston,
TX,
for
Chika Odumodu, Fausto Villatoro, Mauricio Villatoro

Defendant(s):

Alliance PJWE LP, 

Westcorp Management Group, 

CenterPoint Energy Resources Corp.

Defense Attorney(s):

Brandon Berg;
Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons;
Houston,
TX,
for
Alliance PJWE LP, Westcorp Management Group ■ Cory Reed;
Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons;
Houston,
TX,
for
Alliance PJWE LP, Westcorp Management Group ■ Jimmy Sunosky;
Donato, Minx, Brown & Pool P.C.;
Houston,
TX,
for
CenterPoint Energy Resources Corp. ■ Matt Jett;
Donato, Minx, Brown & Pool P.C.;
Houston,
TX,
for
CenterPoint Energy Resources Corp.

Defendant Expert(s):

Sammy Russo;
Natural Gas;
Dickinson,
TX called by
Brandon Berg

Insurer(s):

Fireman’s Fund Alliance PJW LP and Westcorp Management Group
self-insured retention CenterPoint Energy Recources Corp.

Facts:

On Sept. 13, 2008, plaintiffs Chika Odumodu, 31, an engineer, Fausto Villatoro, 58, a painter, and his son plaintiff Mauricio Villatoro, 36, a coating specialist, were residents of first-floor apartments in Building 21 of the Meadowchase Apartments in Houston. The complex was owned by Alliance PJWE and managed by Westcorp Management. At approximately 11:19 a.m., while Odumodu and Fausto Villatoro were in their apartments and Mauricio Villatoro was standing on the porch of his father’s apartment, an explosion took place, severely damaging the building and destroying all three plaintiffs’ apartments. The Houston Arson Bureau determined that the cause of the explosion was a natural gas leak from a CenterPoint Energy 2-inch plastic main approximately 20 yards from the building. At the time of the explosion the area was experiencing high winds and lightning due to Hurricane Ike. The plaintiffs claimed multiple injuries. Odumodu and the Villatoros sued Alliance, Westcorp and CenterPoint, claiming negligence and gross negligence. Plaintiff’s counsel maintained that the gas main developed a leak approximately one month before the explosion and the gas was channeled by a drain pipe into the first floor of the building, where it accumulated and ignited. Plaintiff’s counsel maintained all three plaintiffs repeatedly reported gas odors in and around the building to all three defendants in the month before the explosion, but no action was taken. Defense counsel maintained the leak did not begin until the day of the explosion and the defendants had no opportunity to remediate it. Defense counsel argued the Arson Bureau determined the line had been breached by the roots of a tree blown over by the high winds. The defense gas explosion expert testified the damage to the line indicated a lightning strike arced to a tracer wire buried with the pipe and burned a hole in the plastic. Defense counsel argued both the Arson Bureau and the defense expert agreed the point of origin of the explosion was outside the building. Defense counsel maintained none of the defendants received any reports of gas odors prior to the explosion from the plaintiffs or from any other source.

Injury:

All three plaintiffs were transported by ambulance to the emergency room. Odumodu claimed a shard of glass caused a severe laceration in his right calf. Fausto Villatoro claimed second-degree burns to his face, arms and legs, and Maurico Villatoro claimed a dislocated shoulder. All three plaintiffs also claimed cervical and lumbar strains and to have developed post-traumatic stress disorder from the experience. Odumondo underwent surgery to remove the glass fragment from his leg, and Fausto Villatoro was hospitalized for burn treatment. All three plaintiffs claimed that they were undergoing counseling for PTSD at the time of trial. Odumondo and Fasuto Villatoro claimed their injuries resulted in visible permanent scarring. Plaintiffs’ counsel maintained the explosion and fire destroyed the plaintiffs’ apartments and all the possessions stored inside. The plaintiffs sought $2 million for past and future pain and suffering, medical expenses, disfigurement and property damages, as well as $1,000,000 in punitive damages.

Result:

The jury found no negligence.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Wesley Ward

Trial Length:

3
 days

Trial Deliberations:

15
 minutes

Jury Composition:

8 males 4 females

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by defense counsel. Plaintiffs’ counsel did not respond to calls for comment.