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UGI says punitive damages in Pa. blast case are unnecessary

year's gas explosion in Allentown caused by an old, cracked UGI Utilities gas pipe caused half a block of human and property destruction. A Pennsylvania court recently heard punitive damages' arguments between the utility's lawyers and an attorney who filed wrongful death claims for some of the survivors of five victims killed.

The explosion in the winter of 2011 was not the result of UGI's "evil" intent or "reckless disregard" for the safety of city residents, according to utility lawyers. UGI's argument was used to try to dismiss punitive damages -- sizeable monetary awards for damages used to deter defendants from ever repeating wrongdoing.

An attorney for an Allentown resident who lost his mother, teenage daughter and grandson in the gas blast told the court there was plentiful evidence that UGI was fully aware how dangerous the neighborhood gas leaks had become. Three dozen gas leaks were apparently reported in the vicinity before the explosion.

Eight homes were leveled on Feb. 9, 2011. The plaintiff's attorney claimed UGI failed to act on knowledge that the area was unsafe. For punitive damages to be included in the wrongful death complaint, plaintiffs would have to prove that UGI encouraged a "corporate mind-set" of negligence.

UGI contends that it had already settled the majority of the claims. One of those settlements apparently was given to the family of an elderly couple who died. Reports say the settlement included six figures, which the plaintiff's attorney called "preposterous." A judge said the arguments would be reviewed but did not issue an immediate decision about the objections from the attorneys.

Out-of-court settlements are not uncommon in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Parties suspected of irresponsibility may try to quiet the publicity surrounding a court action or save money they might lose if a jury hears the case.

Winning a wrongful death lawsuit requires proof that negligence occurred. A skillful personal injury attorney can advise whether a non-jury settlement is appropriate.

Source: articles.mcall.com, "Attorneys argue over punitive damages in Allentown gas explosion suit," Nicole Radzievich, Sept. 26, 2012

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