Press-Register (Mobile, AL) - October 18, 2007
Author: DAVID FERRARA, Staff Reporter

Deliberations begin today in lawsuit over water heater

Plaintiffs seek more than $42.6 million for explosion that killed Daphne man


Staff Reporter

BAY MINETTE - In what would be one of the largest court awards in Baldwin County history, plaintiffs attorneys asked jurors Wednesday for more than $42.6 million in the case of Richard Krantz, who died after a water heater exploded in his garage.

"There has got to be something good that can come from this tragedy, " said David S. Cain Jr., an attorney for the Krantz family, "that will alter the outcome for the daddies who go out to get hot water for their babies and don't come back."

Although a defense attorney for A.O. Smith - the company that built the heater - didn't concede that his clients were at fault, he quickly shot back in closing arguments with a counter-offer of a little less than $1 million, should the jury accept the Krantz family's lawyers argument that a faulty valve caused the explosion.

The arguments culminated a 21/2-week trial that wrapped up after two of the five original defendants - an A.O. Smith representative and his worker - settled for an undisclosed figure.

The jury will begin deliberations after the judge instructs them on the law at 9 a.m. today.

Krantz died July 5, 2005, five days after he had gone to check the water heater in his family's garage in Daphne because he couldn't get a warm shower.

His family sued A.O. Smith, and has since settled with all the plumbers who worked on the heater and with Mitchell Homes.

Plaintiffs lawyers have argued that the heater exploded because of a used, faulty valve, while defense attorneys argued that there was a natural gas leak in the garage.

During closing arguments before Baldwin County Circuit Judge Lang Floyd, Cain also pointed to a 1998 patent from A.O. Smith that he said could have prevented the explosion.

Cain asked jurors to award the Krantz family $1 million for each of the five days Krantz lived after the explosion; $2.6 million for his wife; an undetermined amount for their two children; and $35 million in punitive damages from the water heater company.

Defense attorney Don Carlson said a cracked foundation allowed gas from an underground pipe to seep into the garage.

"If I thought that valve had a leak, I'd be telling you that," Carlson said. "But there's no evidence in the case that that valve leaked. The evidence demonstrates we were doing what we needed to bring a reasonably safe product to the market."

Krantz, his wife, Michelle, and their two young children had moved into the home only months before. They encountered problems with the water heater before the explosion, and had plumbers try to fix it, their lawyers said.

When Krantz walked into his garage on the morning of July 1, 2005, he tried to turn the valve on the lower half of the heater, said Krantz lawyer Joseph M. "Buddy" Brown.

"Click, click. And everything went white," Brown said.

Krantz was thrown back six feet by the blast, which rattled the home at 8318 Carousel Court and woke his wife and children. He suffered first- and second-degree burns to 90 percent of his body.

Brown called the defense witnesses who testified that the water heater didn't cause the explosion a "league of liars," and suggested that a high-dollar verdict would prevent another tragedy.

"This case is bigger than Baldwin County," he said. "It is bigger than the 67 counties in Alabama."

He looked over at a table with his fellow lawyers seated around the Krantz's widow.

"Michelle Krantz deserves a verdict in this case," Brown said. "She deserves a substantial verdict. And your verdict will do nothing but good."

Lawyers Involved: