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Alaska Supreme Court orders AVCP Regional Housing Authority to pay over $3.5M in damages for boiler explosion

Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority in Bethel, Alaska.
Courtesy Of Catherine Cedars/AVCP RHA
Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority in Bethel, Alaska.

A recent Alaska Supreme Court ruling means that the Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority (AVCP RHA) will have to pay over $3.5 million in damages after a Chefornak man was injured in a boiler explosion. The ruling upholds a Superior Court decision from 2019.

According to court documents, the boiler explosion occurred inside a Chefornak home owned by AVCP RHA. In January 2016, a resident of the home heard a whistling noise coming from her home’s boiler. She asked her son to look at it. As he approached the boiler it exploded, throwing him against a wall, spraying him with scalding water and glycol, and knocking him unconscious. He spent a week in the hospital, followed by physical therapy. At trial he testified that he suffered from back pain that prevented him from working, playing with his children, or taking part in subsistence activities.

The court heard evidence that there was rust and corrosion on the boiler’s pressure relief valve, indicating that the boiler had not been properly maintained.

The court determined that AVCP RHA had failed to inspect and maintain the boiler. The housing authority argued that its contract to inspect the house expired in 2009, 25 years after the family had moved into the home. However, the court determined that the housing authority had never officially conveyed the home or its title to the family, making the housing authority responsible for regular inspections and maintenance. Furthermore, the housing authority had continued accepting the family’s monthly administrative fees up to the point of the explosion.

A jury found the housing authority totally responsible for the incident. The court awarded over $3.5 million in damages to the man injured by the explosion and to his family. The housing authority appealed the Superior Court ruling, but the Alaska Supreme Court has upheld it.

Corrected: May 4, 2022 at 5:54 PM AKDT
This story originally said that the Alaska Supreme Court awarded nearly $2.8 million to the plaintiffs. That number has been corrected to over $3.5 million.
Anna Rose MacArthur is the KYUK News Director. She has worked at KYUK since 2015 and previously worked at KNOM in Nome, Alaska.
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