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Oct 3, 2007

Posted by DAVID FERRARA al.com

BAY MINETTE -- A faulty valve in a water heater and shoddy plumbing work led to an explosion that killed a Daphne man at his home two years ago, his family's lawyer said Tuesday in opening statements in the wrongful death trial.

But a defense attorney for A.O. Smith Water Products Co., which built the water heater, told Baldwin County Circuit Court jurors that the blast was caused by a leak in an underground gas line that fed into the east Daphne home.

Though attorneys in the case said the trial could last all month, two defendants reached settlements with the family of Richard Krantz after Tuesday's lunch break.

Ed Dismukes, who runs his own plumbing company and had worked on the water heater, and Mitchell Homes, which built the Krantzes' house, each agreed to pay the family $1 million, Circuit Court Judge Lang Floyd informed the jurors.

But the suit against A.O. Smith and their representatives who worked on the appliance days before the blast continued.

Plaintiffs' attorney Joseph M. "Buddy" Brown spent nearly three hours on his opening statement,

describing the inner mechanics of the water heater and attempts to fix problems with it, as well as the severity of Krantz's injuries and his family's screams.

Krantz, a 55-year-old real estate agent, his wife, Michelle, and their two children, Sophia and Hayden, had moved into the single-story brick home only a few months before the July 1, 2005, explosion.

The family 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 a valve, Brown said.

Before going to work, Richard Krantz had gone into his garage to check the heater when he couldn't get warm water.

A "used, old worn-out valve" had caused a clog, Brown said, "creating the potential for a bomb to go off."

The blast rattled the 2,400-square-foot home.

At the time of the blast, Daphne Fire Marshal Chip Martin said there was a gas leak in the home, and the family had not installed any carbon monoxide detectors.

A.O. Smith attorney Don Carlson told jurors 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.

"We try really hard to make the safest product you can have in your home," Carlson said. "We're not in the business of blowing people up. ... It functions the way we want it to function so people don't get hurt."

Brown flashed images on a projection screen of the Krantzes' house, which looked like it had been rattled by an earthquake.

He described the scene:

The ceiling popped six inches off the framing. The brick walls of the garage buckled. The blast shot the metal garage door 40 yards and into the middle of Carousel Court.

Bloody footprints led through the kitchen and living room, as Krantz, dazed and critically burned, staggered and collapsed.

His wife and children stood in horror. They didn't know what to do.

Brown told jurors that Krantz suffered first- and second-degree burns over 90 percent of his body, but he kept repeating, "I'm OK. I'm OK."

A neighbor rushed over to help.

Emergency crews airlifted Krantz to the University of South Alabama Medical Center, where he died five days later.

To read the original article, click here.

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