Burned in boiler, he gets $3m

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Repairman wins damages for injuries

by Michael P. Mayko
Connecticut Post

August 14, 1996

BRIDGEPORT — A Superior Court jury Tuesday awarded more than $3 million to a 28-year-old furnace cleaner who received severe burns when a boiler ignited at St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church.

A six-member jury deliberated for three days before finding the accident caused Thelonious Paige of Bridgeport $4.9 million in damages. However, that amount was reduced to a total of $3.2 million after the jury determined that Paige was 35 percent negligent in the Apri1 22, 1988 accident.

The Rev. Chris Walsh, a spokesman for the Diocese of Bridgeport, said "the accident was certainly tragic, however, we find it hard to understand how St. Andrew's Church was responsible for an explosion that occurred while a professional repairman was servicing the boiler."

"It is our intention to appeal the verdict," Walsh said.

On the day of the incident, Paige was inside the boiler, which supplies heat to the church and the adjoining eight-room school. As he was cleaning, he heard the ignition switch turn on and dove for the small entrance door, However, he got stuck in the two-foot by two-foot entrance and screamed in horror as the swirling frames ignited his body, severely burning him from the chest down.

"The fire burnt his legs down to the bone," said Vincent Musto, who, with Lillian Gustilo, represented Paige. The pair are members of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder, a Bridgeport law firm.

"Even today he has very significant limitations," said Musto. "The fact that he could even walk is a testament to his courage and the people at Bridgeport Hospital's burn unit."

Musto said two doctors from Bridgeport Hospital testified during the two-month-long trial before Superior Court Judge Thomas West.

"One said it was among the 10 worst burn cases he treated, " Musto said. "Mr. Paige has significant scarring over two-thirds of his body because of the burns and all the skin grafts."

Musto said his evidence showed that the church failed to deactivate the boiler so it wouldn't turn on during the cleaning process. He also claimed the church failed to instruct its employees not to reactivate the boiler.

"The proper warnings were not in place," the lawyer said.

The defense focused on Paige's negligence during the cleaning procedure.

The jury award breaks down as follows: $262,000 for past medical care and $1.3 million for future medical care; $541,666 for past pain and suffering and $333,000 for future pain and suffering; $262,500 for past lost enjoyment of life and $666,666 for future lost enjoyment of life; and $194,000 for past lost earnings and $1.2 million for future lost earnings.

Currently, Paige works at a local car dealership inspecting cars.