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Jun 11, 1987

Jury Awards $3 Million in Spa Death

Featuring: Robert T. Cunningham

The Associated Press 

Jury Awards $3 million in spa death 

A Mobile County Circuit Court jury has awarded $3 million in damages to the widower of a 75- year-old Dothan woman who died as result of burns she received in spa steam room. 

The jury deliberated about 45 minutes before returning the verdict Wednesday against Olympia Spa, its owner and manager. The verdict followed six days of testimony in the trial before Judge Michael Zoghby.

The suit was filed by Wilbur G. Johnson, 82, the husband of Margaret F. Johnson, against the spa, owner David Poler, manager Brenda McCall and three other defendants. The others -- Honeywell Inc., Jack Nicklaus Club Management and Jack Nicklaus Inc. -- were found not at fault. 

Mrs. Johnson, who was going to the spa because it helped relieve her arthritis, sustained third- degree burns on more than 30 percent of her upper body while on a visit to the spa in August 1984. She was still alive when she was found on the floor of the spa's steam room, but died en route to a hospital. 

Johnson, who had been married to the victim for 59 years, charged the spa with negligence for improperly maintaining the thermostat for the steam room. Robert Cunningham Jr. , an attorney for Johnson, said the thermostat for the steam room was not working properly. 

The steam room temperature was supposed to be maintained at 110 degrees, but was in excess of 130 degrees, testimony in the case indicated. 

''Our position was if Mrs. Johnson went in there she may have expected to fall and break an arm, but she never contemplated burning to death,'' Cunningham said. 

The defense contended Mrs. Johnson had a history of dizziness and was warned by the spa manager not to go into the steam room. 

''Nobody knows, but our theory was for whatever reason she either slipped or had a dizzy spell and fell up against a grate,'' said Davis Carr, attorney for the spa.

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