Before the electrical explosion that subjected him to unending pain, Brian Warembourg woke every day at 5:30 a.m., worked 10 hours installing flooring and then went home to play with his three sons until bed time.
The lifelong athlete and Louisville native coached his boys’ sports teams and taught them to throw a ball. Life was simply good, Warembourg said.
Then it was all taken from him with the flip of a switch when he became one of thousands of people who are injured in work-related accidents every year.
“Things aren’t simple anymore,” he said.
After faulty equipment at a work site caused an electrical explosion that left him with a rare chronic pain syndrome, Warembourg now spends most of his days in his Broomfield home or shuttling between doctors appointments.
In October, Warembourg received a $16 million verdict from a jury. It’s among the largest of its kind in the state, his attorney, Kurt Zaner, said. Despite winning the lawsuit, the money is uncertain. And no matter what he eventually receives, Warembourg’s ability to work and play will never be restored.
Warembourg, 33, might not receive the money for years if the company responsible for the equipment, Excel Electric, appeals the jury’s decision. The final amount also likely will change after state limits on the amount a jury can award and interest rates are calculated, Zaner said.
In the meantime, Warembourg is left to learn how to navigate a world where he’s not able to work or play with his kids, ages 7, 11 and 15.
“When you can’t work, as a man and as a father, it’s something that’s really been ripped from me,” he said. “I really pride myself on being able to take care of my kids and my family and do everything for them. And now my kids are doing the things I wish I could do, but they’re doing them for me.”
‘I thought I had died’
Warembourg was in a good mood on Sept. 9, 2015. He was working with his partner at Schmidt Custom Floors to sand the flooring on a newly constructed home in Berthoud. Warembourg attempted to plug some of their tools into a temporary electric box, but the outlets weren’t working.
In an attempt to get power, Warembourg started flipping the breakers on the box. But when he flipped the second switch, the world around him exploded.
The sound was louder than a gun firing right next to his ear, he said. He smelled burnt skin and hair. His hands were covered in a black substance. The electrical current had melted a magnetic bracelet into his wrist.
He patted himself, making sure he was still there.
“I thought I had died,” he said.
He didn’t feel any pain at first. It wasn’t until more than an hour after the explosion that the pain set in. His hands started to burn. He couldn’t bend his right wrist.
Months later, the pain in his right arm hadn’t subsided. He hadn’t been able to return to work. It wasn’t until he consulted with a specialist that he received the diagnosis: complex regional pain syndrome.
The chronic condition isn’t well understood and causes the central nervous syndrome to malfunction and creates prolonged severe pain in a person’s limbs, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The syndrome is often caused by an injury, but the pain can spread to other parts of the body and does not stop even after the original injury heals. There is no known cure.
It wasn’t until the pain spread to Warembourg’s left arm and feet that his new reality set in, he said. He wouldn’t be going back to work any time soon.
Some days, the syndrome makes him feel like he’s being stabbed. Other days, the pain is a throbbing or the sensation of a million needle pricks. He’s extremely sensitive to heat and cold. The brush of the wind on his skin hurts. Sometimes the pain makes it impossible to get up in the morning to help his kids get ready for school.
“Every day is a new day with this pain,” he said.
A win amid loss
Once Warembourg learned he wouldn’t be able to return to work, he sued the company in charge of the electrical box, Excel Electric, for failing to maintain the equipment.
The box was old and made of a combination of components from other machines, according to the lawsuit filed in September 2017 in Boulder County District Court. Excel Electric failed to maintain the equipment, which led to the explosion, the suit stated.
After an eight-day trial in October, the jury agreed with the lawsuit and found Excel Electric negligent and fully responsible for the damages to be paid to Warembourg.
Now, Warembourg’s full-time job is managing his pain, he said. He takes a daily cocktail of strong narcotics, like Oxycodone, to manage his pain, though he tries to limit the amount of painkillers he uses. He sleeps multiple times throughout the day. For more than a year, Warembourg received injections in his neck and lower back every Tuesday that helped block the nerve pain in his arms and feet.
The money gives the family hope, Warembourg’s wife, Melanie, said. It will allow them to pursue experimental treatments not covered by insurance and connect with specialty doctors.
But it won’t give they family back the life they had before. The couple no longer sleeps together. Brian’s pain keeps him up at night and he sleeps fitfully when he finally falls asleep. His movement keeps Melanie awake. Now, Brian sleeps on the couch.
The boys sometimes camp out in the living room to be close to their dad. They’re afraid for him, he said. They want to make sure he’s okay.
Sometimes it feels as if the roles of child and parent have reversed, Warembourg said.
“That’s hard,” he said.
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