Plaintiff's Lawyer Focuses on Water Heater Valve in Suit

Posted by David Ferrara

BAY MINETTE -- An attorney for the family of a Daphne man killed when his water heater exploded tried to show Baldwin County jurors Friday that a faulty valve was at the center of the appliance's problems, wrapping up the first week of testimony in the wrongful death trial.

Bradley K. Plank, an engineer with A.O. Smith Water Products Co., which made the water heater, took the witness stand as the trial resumed in the morning and was questioned for almost five hours by Joseph M. "Buddy" Brown, who represents the family of Richard Krantz.

On a few occasions, Brown had Plank step down from the witness stand toward the jury box and explain the intricacies of a water heater's control valve.

n opening statements, Brown had told jurors that the valve installed in Krantz's home was several years old and worn-out.

Krantz had suffered first- and second-degree burns over 90 percent of his body from a blast in his garage on July 1, 2005, after he had gone to check on his water heater. He died days later.

Brown suggested that the valve had been clogged and wasn't working properly.

"If the flame goes out and the control valve doesn't close, then you've got the potential for a bomb, is that correct?" he asked Plank.

Plank agreed but later said that if the valve had never been used, it should still work properly.

Brown asked why Plank, who investigated the explosion in the Krantz home, had not been critical of plumbers who didn't install a "sediment trap" with the water heater.

"I've not had any explosions because of it," Plank said.

On cross-examination, Plank told defense attorney Don Carlson that the lack of a sediment trap probably had no effect on the blast in Krantz' garage.

Carlson told jurors during opening statements that the water heater worked properly and wasn't clogged. Instead, he pointed to a cracked foundation that allowed gas to seep into the garage.

Krantz, a 55-year-old real estate agent, his wife, Michelle, and their two youngest children had moved into the home only a few months earlier.

The family had encountered a series of troubles with the water heater. Michelle Krantz had called for service just days before the explosion, and a repairman tried to fix the valve, Brown said.

Lengthy testimony hasn't been uncommon in the trial that was initially expected to last the entire month, before two defendants settled for $1 million each with the Krantz family.

After court wrapped up Friday afternoon, lawyers said the trial, which will be delayed Monday for the Columbus Day holiday and resume Tuesday, may be finished in the third week of October.

Lawyers Involved: