Gonzalez v. Tounjian and Dolund Partnership, L.L.P., 684 N.W.2d 653 (N.D., 2004)
Defendant Dolund Partnership, LLP, owned an apartment building in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. Plaintiffs Lilian Gonzalez and her daughter, Betsy, lived in the building. The apartment building caught fire, due to an unattended candle in a neighboring apartment occupied by co-defendant Jessica Tounjian. Betsy she saw thick smoke, told her mother there was a fire and she ran out of the apartment toward the exit.
Gonzalez followed Betsy toward the exit, but her path was blocked by a metal fire door which had dropped down in the hallway. The door was described as similar to a roll-top desk, suspended in the ceiling. The door is triggered when the temperature reaches 180 degrees. Once the temperature hits 180 degrees the metal door drops down to block the spread of the fire to other parts of the building.
Gonzalez tried to open the door but did not know how to operate it. She attempted to enter a nearby apartment but could not find the door because of the thick smoke in the hallway. Gonzalez was overcome by smoke and collapsed. She was later rescued by firefighters and taken to the hospital where it was discovered that she suffered serious burns on 15% of her body and had second-degree burns in her airway. Gonzalez had to have skin grafts on her arms, hands, and fingers, and had numerous surgeries to improve scarring on her shoulders.
Gonzalez ultimately settled her claims against Tounjian, and the case against Dolund proceeded to trial. At trial, the jury found that Dolund was 85% at fault and Tounjian 15% at fault for Gonzalez’s injuries. The jury determined Gonzalez had sustained $285,000 in past economic damages and $1,500,000 in past noneconomic damages, and that she would have $650,000 in future economic damages and $500,000 in future noneconomic damages. The jury also awarded interest on her damages at the rate of 3.5% annually.
The trial court reduced the damages to account for Tounjian’s percentage of fault, added costs, disbursements, and interest, and entered judgment in the amount of $2,983,099.34. Defendant, Dolund Partnership, L.L.P., appealed the judgment. On appeal, prejudgment interest on future damages was not allowed; however, all other findings were upheld by the Supreme Court of North Dakota.
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