The Estate of Charles D. Benefiel, by and through its Co-Personal Representatives, Michael D. Benefiel and Andrea D. Kessner, and The Estate of Linda D. Benefiel, by and through its Co-Personal Representatives, Michael D. Benefiel and Andrea D. Kessner, Appellants-Plaintiffs,
Wright Hardware Co., Inc., Appellee-Defendant.
from the Clinton Circuit Court The Honorable Bradley K.
Mohler, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 12C01-1601-CT-55
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS Anthony W. Patterson Michael L.
Schultz Kent M. Frandsen Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson
Kruse, LLP Indianapolis, Indiana
D. Moore Kathryn J. Cook Ryan, Moore, Cook, Triplett &
Albertson, LLP Frankfort, Indiana
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Minh C. Wai Kopka Pinkus Dolin, P.C.
Crown Point, Indiana
OF THE CASE
Appellants-Plaintiffs, The Estate of Charles D. Benefiel, by
and through its Co-Personal Representatives, Michael D.
Benefiel and Andrea D. Kessner, and the Estate of Linda D.
Benefiel, by and through its Co-Personal Representatives
Michael D. Benefiel and Andrea D. Kessner (collectively, the
Estate), appeal the verdict in favor of Appellee-Defendant,
Wright Hardware Co., Inc. (Wright Hardware), in a negligence
case arising out of a propane gas explosion wherein Charles
and Linda Benefiel were killed.
We reverse and remand for a new trial.
The Estate raises three issues on appeal, which we
consolidate and restate as: Whether the trial court abused
its discretion in permitting a defense expert witness to read
verbatim into evidence an opinion set forth in an
email to the defense expert witness.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This appeal follows a defense verdict in a negligence case
arising out of a propane gas explosion that killed Charles
and Linda Benefiel in their rural Clinton County residence.
The Benefiel home was built in 1983 and, at the time of the
explosion, the residence used propane gas service for heat
and to fuel other gas appliances in their home. Beginning in
2000, the Benefiels became customers of Wright Hardware when
Wright Hardware installed a 500-gallon liquid propane gas
tank at the residence.
On October 19, 2015, at 9:37 a.m., Wright Hardware employee
Chuck Watkins received a call from the Benefiels, complaining
they had no heat in the residence. William Taylor (Taylor)
responded to the complaint and discovered the control board
and gas valve were no longer functioning. He replaced both
components. To complete the replacement, Taylor shut the gas
off at the gas shut-off valve for the furnace, which
terminated the gas service to the furnace only and left the
gas on everywhere else in the house. He then disconnected the
piping from the furnace. After reassembling the piping,
Taylor used a manometer to test the flow pressure to the
manifold to ensure the pressure was correct for the furnace.
He tested the regulator on the new gas valve to check it was
consistently producing the required pressure. In addition, he
sniffed around the area and failed to detect any propane in
the immediate vicinity. Finally, Taylor soap-tested the pipe
fittings, but did not perform a leak test. Not finding any
leaks, Taylor turned the gas on to cycle through the furnace
a few times.
On October 21, 2015, Wright Hardware delivered propane gas to
the Benefiels' residence and filled the tank to eighty
percent capacity. Two days later, on October 23, 2015, an
explosion occurred which was followed by a fire, creating a
debris field of 150 to 200 feet away from the residence. The
home was substantially destroyed along with the surrounding
buildings. It is not disputed by the parties that the
explosion was ...