Widow wins millions from hotel over carbon monoxide poisoning that killed her husband


Lewis Hudgens appears inset against an image of the Rainbow Ranch Lodge in Montana

Main image: Rainbow Ranch Lodge (Screenshot via KBZK); Inset left: Lewis Hudgens (Mobile Funeral Home and Crematory).

An Alabama woman who was briefly a newlywed before being widowed by faulty construction at her honeymoon resort in Montana received money justice this week to the tune of $15 million.

Catharine Hudgens married Lewis Hudgens on Jan. 9, 2021, in Florida. Two days later, they got on a plane to Big Sky — en route to the posh Rainbow Ranch Lodge in Gallatin Gateway. By Jan. 14, 2021, Lewis was dead from carbon monoxide poisoning and Catharine was left sick and “severely disoriented.” The couple were found laying next to each other on the hotel bed by the lodge’s general manager the next day.

As Law&Crime previously reported, trial in the widow’s wrongful death and negligence lawsuit began in Gallatin County District Court earlier this month. The upscale hotel, along with several companies, contractors, and plumbers were named defendants in the case. On Wednesday, a jury ruled in Hudgens’ favor.

“Quite an emotional thing, I think, to come back to Montana from Mobile, having not been here since she had been poisoned by the carbon monoxide,” Bozeman-based attorney Justin P. Stalpes told Bozeman-based CBS affiliate KBZK after the verdict.

According to the attorney, Catharine Hudgens and her deceased husband’s heirs will receive 65% of the payout from the Rainbow Ranch resort while the remainder will be paid out by other parties who earlier agreed to settle.

The failures that led to Lewis Hudgens’ death and Catharine Hudgens’ now-chronic illness were shared, but most liability fell on the ranch itself.

Holes had been drilled into the concrete wall separating the newlywed couple’s room from the boiler room — where the hotel had purchased and installed a new water boiler to heat an outdoor hot tub. The lawsuit alleged — and jurors agreed — that the hotel did not properly ventilate the boiler room: an exhaust fan in the room “was not operational while the Hudgens stayed in the adjacent guest room.”

Additionally, Catharine Hudgens alleges that the hotel “failed to monitor carbon monoxide levels” in the boiler room, which would and should have warned them about the deadly gas being emitted.

Stalpes told the TV station that his client is likely to suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning for the rest of her life because the negligent poisoning ordeal left two holes in her brain.

“Talking to Catharine, her biggest complaint, she just wishes she was the same,” the attorney said. “And she’s not. She lost her husband, she went through one of the most horrific situations you could imagine, and she’s not the same anymore. They took that away from her.”

The incident was made worse by inaction after the couple’s family realized something was wrong, the lawsuit also alleged.

On Jan. 13 and 14, 2021, Catharine Hudgens’ sister called the Rainbow Lodge’s front desk and requested that the hotel send someone up to the newlyweds’ room to make sure they were well because they had not been heard from. But for two days, employees failed to visit the room while the couple were slowly being poisoned, the lawsuit alleged.

“Had Rainbow Ranch staff checked on the Hudgenses as requested, it is likely Lew would be alive and Catharine would not have been injured,” the lawsuit obtained by Law&Crime reads.

Catharine herself testified during the nearly two-week long trial.

In the end, she and her husband’s estate won on theories of having “suffered severe and lasting injury” and won damages for “emotional distress, mental and physical pain and suffering, loss of established course of life, and loss of earning capacity.”

One of their final shared memories was watching the NCAA college football national championship game on the night they arrived. The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 52-24.

An obituary for Lewis Hudgens says he was affectionately known as “Big Lew” to friends and family and that he “passed away unexpectedly while honeymooning in Big Sky, Montana with his wife.”

“She hung in there for another 24 hours, maybe even longer after he had died,” Stalpes told KZBK. “She was in the room with him while he was deceased and she didn’t know who she was, where she was, or who he was.”

Jerry Lambe contributed to this report.

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