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Court Backs Verdict In Home Lost Due To Oil Mess

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DETROIT (AP) - A woman whose home had to be demolished after 400 gallons of heating oil were mistakenly pumped into the basement can collect $100,000 for mental distress, the Michigan appeals court said Friday.

Beckie Price was forced to temporarily move in with her parents and lacked a permanent place for two years. High Pointe Oil had argued that she wasn’t entitled to sue for non-economic damages, but the appeals court said a house is not just a home.

“Authors and poets alike wax philosophical about the unique value of a home, which often provides as much if not more feelings of emotion and memories as it does shelter,” said judges Jane Beckering, Karen Fort Hood and Cynthia Diane Stephens.

They said the impact of losing real estate can be different than losing personal possessions.

“Dealing with the consequences caused by the loss of, or severe damage to, one’s home and relocating or rebuilding also often involves considerable time and energy in addition to stress,” the court said in affirming a jury’s award to Price.

Messages seeking comment were left with High Pointe’s attorney and the Novi-based company.

In November 2007, a deliveryman mistakenly pumped about 400 gallons of heating oil into a pipe that was no longer attached to a tank in Price’s basement. She had switched to a propane furnace a year earlier and told the company to take her off the customer list.

Oil leaked into the soil, and the house had to be demolished. Price had lived there since 1975.

For about four months, she often slept on a couch at her parents’ home, which was crammed with antiques. Price then spent 18 months in a rented duplex before moving into a new home. She used prescription medicine to get through the tough times.

“It’s rather embarrassing to be 50-some-years-old and have to move back in with mom and dad,” Price, 55, said at trial.

And the new home, she said, just isn’t the same as the one that had to be destroyed.

“It doesn’t have your kids’ memories to it. It doesn’t have the appreciation of what you go through and do. So much of it seems to have a different type of a quality, characteristics, value to it,” Price testified.

The $100,000 for anguish was on top of $175,000 received from Price’s insurance company for the value of the first home.

“It’s been a long ordeal for her, very difficult to say the least,” said Price’s attorney, James Graves.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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