Accord gained in suit over scalding Panel seeks tighter boiler rules after city 1st-grader burned

September 05, 1997|By Michael James and JoAnna Daemmrich | Michael James and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Attorneys for the state, Baltimore and a Connecticut boiler inspection company have agreed to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of Ashley Moore, the city first-grader who was scalded by superheated water after a school boiler malfunctioned last year.

The settlement -- which has not been completed -- comes as officials work to tighten regulations on heating and hot water systems in Maryland public buildings. A state task force is

scrutinizing boiler facilities and inspection practices to improve safety.

Ashley received severe burns June 18, 1996, at Hazelwood Elementary School when the school hot water system overheated, creating a dangerous buildup of heat and pressure. The buildup culminated when Ashley flushed a toilet releasing scalding water and steam.

Attorneys confirmed yesterday that a settlement is near, but they declined to disclose specifics.

"We've got an agreement in principle, but we haven't signed off on the documents yet," said Jonathan Smith, an attorney representing Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co., which city schools had hired to inspect their boiler systems. The settlement figure will be confidential as part of a sealed agreement, Smith said.

Jerome A. Nicholas Jr., an associate city solicitor, also confirmed that an agreement had been reached and that the terms of the city's settlement will be presented to the Board of Estimates next week.

But he added that he will recommend that the amount involved be kept secret, even though the settlement would involve

taxpayer dollars.

"The other defendants have asked that the terms of the settlement be confidential, and we feel that's a fair request," Nicholas said.

"Therefore, we will recommend to the board that the agreement be kept confidential."

Maryland officials became involved in the lawsuit because the state regulated the boiler inspection work done by Hartford. They also have agreed to settle, Nicholas said.

The lawyer representing Ashley and her family, Robert A. Feinberg, declined to comment. The lawsuit he filed last summer in Baltimore Circuit Court had asked for $6.5 million, as he alleged that school officials failed to provide adequate warning of a dangerous condition they knew existed.

Ashley, who no longer attends the Northeast Baltimore school, spent weeks in the hospital undergoing surgery and skin grafts for second- and third-degree burns. Her mother, Tamala Moore, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Soon after the accident, state inspectors reviewed other city school boilers and found widespread hazards. They also discovered disturbing discrepancies between their findings and the safe conditions reported by inspectors for Hartford Steam Boiler.

The city has since hired another company to inspect and insure its boilers.

In Maryland, boilers are typically monitored by private inspectors, who work for insurance companies but are accountable to the state.

Chief among the state task force's proposals is passage of a law requiring Maryland schools, larger day care centers and nursing homes to have licensed boiler operators. Now, most places hire service companies, but some rely on janitors with little or no training. The recommendation is one of 14 that will be presented next month to the state boiler board.

"We're working on strengthening the law to have the best safety network we can to protect our citizens," said Ileana C. O'Brien, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Other proposed steps to improve safety include:

Requiring boiler owners to keep copies of inspection and repair reports.

Mandating that state and private inspectors file reports on violations they notice just by looking at the boiler. Now, reports on "external" conditions are discretionary.

Fining owners and operators who operate a boiler after inspectors declare it unsafe.

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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