Monessen woman’s family awarded $250,000 in wrongful-death trial
A Westmoreland jury on Thursday found the county housing authority negligent for the 2013 carbon monoxide poisoning death of a Monessen woman.
The jury awarded the family of 77-year-old Sandra Troilo more than $868,000 in damages, including $750,000 for pain and suffering.
Westmoreland County Judge Chris Scherer, at the start of the three-day wrongful death trial, ruled the housing authority was a state agency — a designation that caps damages at $250,000.
Alan Silko, the Troilo family’s lawyer, said he would not appeal that ruling.
Troilo was found dead Feb. 4, 2013, in her efficiency apartment at Eastgate Manor. The family’s lawsuit against the authority claimed she died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by faulty ventilation in the apartment.
“I’m happy for the outcome, but this was never about the money. My mother’s name is cleared. I wanted to know first how it happened and why,” Robert Troilo said following the verdict. “I have no grudge against the housing authority.”
The family maintained Troilo’s apartment was improperly ventilated and, although she used her open oven to dry an undergarment, her death was caused by the inability of fresh air to flow into the unit through newly installed, energy-efficient windows and a tight seal on the front door.
Silko told jurors the housing authority violated the terms of its lease with Troilo that required the agency to ensure the apartment met all local and federal regulations, including provisions requiring it to be safe and free of unhealthy air.
“The housing authority needs to hear they were negligent. What they did cannot be excused. They need to be told there are consequences for what they did,” Silko said in his closing argument.
The housing authority argued Troilo was responsible for her death by using her gas oven improperly to dry clothing. It presented testimony from an engineer who said the apartment’s ventilation was sufficient.
“They provided an appropriate apartment for Mrs. Troilo. They did not foresee the oven would be operated with an open door,” authority lawyer Paul Mazeski said.
Troilo’s apartment, which had been vacant for several years after her death, has since been leased, said Michael Washowich, the housing authority’s executive director. Following her death, the authority replaced all gas ovens in Eastgate Manor with electric stoves.
“Obviously, we respect the verdict and acknowledge there is no winner or loser in a case such as this when one of our elderly residents tragically losses their life. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the entire family,” Washowich said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].