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Mother of Fatal Burn Victim Wins $13 Million

(CN) - The New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld a $13 million punitive damage award to the mother of a 19-year-old man who was burned to death when he backed into an unprotected natural gas well-head with his vehicle.

The well-head exploded, causing John Everett Stapleton to burn to death after running from the vehicle with his body on fire.

The well-head, owned and operated by Energen Resources Corporation, was unmarked and unfenced in Glade Run Recreation Area on Bureau of Land Management land just north of Farmington, N.M.

The jury also awarded $1,922,050 in compensatory damages, after finding Energen 65 percent responsible.

The amounts were appropriate, the court reasoned, because the defendant repeatedly failed to protect the well-head, despite knowing it could kill someone.

"Defendant's conduct was outrageous to such a degree as to warrant significant punitive damages," Judge Vigil wrote.

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