At noon, on September 25, 2020, a propane leak from the living room fireplace ignited, leveling the home of Carolyn Hayes in Dawsonville, Georgia. Angela Frady, Mrs. Hayes’ adult daughter, was in the home at the time of the fire and suffered life-threatening burns to 80% of her body. She was rushed to the Grady Hospital burn unit, admitted for the next four months and survived. Her medical bills exceeded $4.5 million. Her life care plan exceeded $1 million. There was only $5 million in liability coverage – less than the specials.
Robb Cruser was retained to represent Amicalola Propane, Inc. against Plaintiff Frady’s claims of negligent “delivery and refill” of Mrs. Hayes propane tank. The crux of Plaintiff’s claim is that Amicalola should have conducted a system-wide leak check when delivering gas to the Hayes residence. Amicalola argued it wasn’t required under the applicable industry standards. In the end, the battle of experts and Plaintiff’s mountain of sympathetic injury evidence never got to a jury.
Why not? Because of Plaintiff’s false testimony. Here’s how it played out: Plaintiff sought to save money on propane so she converted her mother’s living room fireplace from propane to wood burning. But her DIY fireplace conversion project was done improperly and caused the propane leak that led to the explosion and her injuries; i.e., she was the author of her own injuries.
So the story was re-written. The gas line that served the living room fireplace was altered after the fire. Specifically the fireplace gas line was disconnected from the main line and capped off to make it look like the living room fireplace, which Plaintiff had improperly converted, had nothing to do with the explosion and fire. The problem was that the experts – Plaintiff’s and Defendant’s – agreed that the cause of the fire was propane gas leaking at the end of the gas line that served the living room. And that if the fireplace gas line had been disconnected and capped off before the fire, as Plaintiff testified, then no leak and no explosion. In other words, Plaintiff’s testimony that she disconnected and capped off the gas line that served the living room fireplace before the explosion had to be false. Ms. Frady didn’t tamper with the evidence since she was in the hospital but, as Judge Leipold noted, “…someone did,” and Ms. Frady “ratifie[d] the ‘acts of another’ when she testified untruthfully. O.C.G.A. 10-6-1.”
The larger point? Where a Plaintiff testifies untruthfully on a material issue, filing a motion to strike the complaint is an appropriate and necessary defense strategy.