Montana Jury Renders Record $15 Million Verdict in Carbon Monoxide Death Lawsuit


Catharine Hudgens, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Lew Hudgens v. Rainbow Ranch, et al.
Case No. DV 21-263A
Montana Eighteenth District Court, Gallatin County

On April 10, 2024, a Montana jury rendered a record $15 million verdict against Rainbow Ranch Lodge and affiliated parties in a tragic carbon monoxide poisoning incident resulting in the death of Lew Hudgens. This verdict more than doubles the previous highest verdict for Gallatin County, Montana.

In January 2021, Lew and Catharine Hudgens embarked on their honeymoon to Big Sky, Montana, choosing Rainbow Ranch Lodge as their retreat. However, after the family's repeated attempts to reach the newlyweds went unanswered, concerns arose. Despite multiple requests for wellness checks, the Lodge's personnel failed to ascertain the couple's welfare. It wasn't until January 15, four days post-arrival, that the Lodge's general manager discovered Lew deceased in their room, and Catharine in a severely distressed state.

A spa boiler adjacent to Hudgen’s room had not been properly maintained for years. Unfortunately, oversights in the inspection and repair process allowed fatal levels of carbon monoxide to infiltrate the Hudgens' room, claiming Lew's life and causing significant harm to Catharine. In addition, Rainbow Ranch did not have a legally required carbon monoxide detector in their room.

Litigation ensued against Rainbow Ranch Lodge, its management, and several plumbing professionals, alleging their negligence directly contributed to Lew's demise and inflicted irreversible injuries to Catharine. Catharine Hudgens was represented throughout the trial by Skip Finkbohner and David Cain of Cunningham Bounds, alongside Justin Stalpes of Beck, Amsden & Stalpes.

When speaking about the case, Cunningham Bounds’ attorney David Cain stated, “It was an honor to represent the Hudgens family and we are grateful to the jury for holding Rainbow Ranch accountable for this tragedy. An extremely dangerous spa boiler was ignored and neglected for years, resulting in its failure and the release of deadly carbon monoxide. Rainbow Ranch failed to do a wellness check on the Hudgens despite repeated calls by concerned family members and did not have the legally required carbon monoxide alarm in the Hudgens’ room. We hope this verdict brings additional focus to the dangers of carbon monoxide, the importance of carbon monoxide alarms, and the need for timely action by staff when welfare checks are requested.”

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