Lofgren relatives, general contractor prep for court

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Relatives of the Denver family that died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a home outside Aspen in 2008 are on pace for a trial in their lawsuit against the residence’s general contractor, their attorney said Friday.

The relatives of Parker and Caroline Lofgren and their children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8, have reached confidential settlements with nine people and companies for the tragedy, said Denver attorney William Hansen.

He is representing Hildy Feuerbach, Caroline Lofgren’s sister; Jean Rittenour, the mother of Parker Lofgren; and Frederick Feuerbach, Jr., the father of Caroline Lofgren.

The remaining defendants are Integrity Construction Management Group, which court papers say was the general contractor during the home’s construction, and its then-principal, Jack Wheeler. He is now Pitkin County’s facilities project manager.

The lawsuit, filed in 2010, includes claims for wrongful death, manslaughter and negligence. The plaintiffs say the general contractor is to blame for overseeing the installation of the boiler that led to the deaths. The $9 million mansion was built in 2005 and did not have a carbon-monoxide detector.

The gas leaked from the device in the basement, used to heat the house and a snowmelt system, and killed the Lofgrens as they slept, authorities have said. The Lofgrens won a stay at the home through a charity auction.

According to the lawsuit, the boiler’s exhaust piping was disconnected, because it had been “neither properly primed, glued or sealed and was not securely attached, supported or braced in any way.” And a vent designed to take in fresh air from outside was disconnected and recirculating carbon monoxide into the boiler due to similar problems, the filing says.

Former prosecutors in the 9th Judicial District brought criminal charges against three local men who either worked on the boiler or signed off on the inspection. Many decried the prosecutions, which were eventually dismissed for statute-of-limitations issues.

Among the pretrial issues, Hansen said Friday that he and Wheeler’s attorney are arguing over whether the defendant is liable for punitive damages.

Such damages are used in cases where there is “fairly egregious conduct,” Hansen said. The burden of proof is higher for punitive damages, and the sides differ on whether there is adequate evidence to support such a claim.

Hansen plans on calling five expert witnesses, including Dr. Robert Kurtzman, the Grand Junction pathologist who performed the autopsies. Another doctor is expected to testify about how carbon monoxide affects the body, and a scientist who examined the boiler also will be questioned.

Wheeler’s attorney has not yet disclosed his side’s witnesses.

The three-week jury trial is scheduled to begin in May.