A U.S. District judge awarded $592,257 yesterday to the family of an Alexandria man who was fatally scalded when he was trapped in a boiler room at Bolling Air Force Base that was flooded with hot water and steam after an explosion.
Judge Harold H. Greene, who made the award against the federal government, said the Air Force had violated the D.C. Code in failing to provide two exits from the room where George Graves Sr., a skilled boilermaker for Capital Boiler Works, Inc., had been dispatched to make repairs on one of several boilers.
According to testimony in the case, Graves would have escaped serious injury and "perhaps all injury had there been an appropriate second exit," Greene noted in a 12-page written opinion.
The city code, which the Air Force had agreed to abide by, requires that boiler and furnace rooms have "two unobstructed and accessible exits . . . ."
Even if there were no such code requirement, Green said the Air Force was negligent for failing to provide appropriate exits where hazardous equipment was located.
Graves was injured when he opened valves to bring the boiler system back into operation after an asbestos gasket had been put in place to seal off leakage from the boiler assembly, Greene said in his opinion. As pressure built, the gasket blew and hot water and steam cascaded into the room between Graves and the only exit, Greene said.
Graves fled to the rear of the room, where the steam reached him in 15 seconds, remained there for three to five minutes and then crawled through the steam to the exit, Greene said.
Three weeks later, Graves died of second- and third-degree burns, Greene said.
Graves' widow, Carolyn, and their three children, who brought the lawsuit, will each get a part of the award made by Greene yesterday, according to attorney William H. Horkan, who represented the family along with Deborrah Reiser. Horkan said that Graves was in his mid-40s. The children are all young adults.
Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. will receive $280,321 of the judgment awarded by Greene in return for workers' compensation benefits it paid to the Graves family following the accident. The family did not dispute the insurance company's right to reimbursement.
The amount of the money judgment to the family included $89,789 in hospital and medical expenses, $75,000 for Graves' pain and suffering and $7,500 to compensate for the family's loss of Graves' services. Greene said the evidence showed that Graves tutored his daughter, taught his sons his trade, cooked, shopped and did household and car repairs for the family. The remainder of the award, approximately $419,000 was for salary Graves would have earned if he had had a normal life span.