Family Receives $109 Million Verdict in Backyard Electrocution Death of Mother
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on December 13th, 2012
When the power went out in her house in June 2009, Carrie Goretzka, an Allegheny County, Pa., mother of two children looked outside and saw flames in some pine trees in her backyard. Frightened by the power-related tree fire, she went out to her car to get her cellphone so she could call the electric company for help, but before utility workers could arrive to fix the outage, a power line fell from the pole and struck Goretzka, giving her a severe electric shock.
Three days later, Goretzka died from her injuries, which had caused serious burns on 80 to 90 percent of her body. The incident was witnessed by her mother-in-law and by her six- and eight-year-old daughters at their home in Irwin, Pa., according to a story from The Associated Press.
Her survivors sued the utility company, West Penn Power Co., alleging that the power lines had been improperly installed and maintained and that the company knew of the conditions but had failed to correct them, according to a story in The Legal Intelligencer.
An Allegheny County jury recently awarded Goretzka’s survivors a $109 million damage award in the case, including $61 million in punitive damages, in connection with her death. Also included were $48 million in compensatory damages including for wrongful death, pain and suffering and for emotional distress to her mother and daughters for witnessing the horrifying tragedy.
“The jury was unanimous in finding that West Penn Power was negligent, that its negligence was a factual cause in Goretzka’s death, that Goretzka was not herself negligent in causing the injuries complained of, and that West Penn Power’s conduct was outrageous,” reported The Legal Intelligencer.
West Penn Power denied the charges and said it will review the verdict for a possible appeal.
The judge had instructed the jury before the verdict that “anyone who provides, supplies or use an inherently dangerous instrumentality, such as the high-voltage electricity current supplied by the defendant in this case, is required by law to use the highest degree of care practicable to avoid injury to everyone who may be lawfully in the area of such activity,” according to the report.
Instead, according to the family’s attorneys, the power line that killed Goretzky didn’t have the proper fusing and grounding in place which should have caused a fuse to trip when she came in contact with the fallen power line, the story said.
The power lines had come down twice before at the home, but West Penn Power Co. “failed to properly train workers for years,” which contributed to the incident, according to the AP story. The woman’s husband had even previously “told the utility he was concerned for his family’s well-being.”
One of the facts uncovered during the case was that a “company email from 2004 blamed poor preparation of the wires and improper splicing” in a previous incident, according to The AP.
Those kinds of details are the pieces of a case that can only be uncovered by an experienced, persistent and aggressive team of attorneys who fight for their clients who have suffered serious injuries and personal traumas in a wide range of scenarios, including vehicle accidents, workplace accidents, power line failures and much more.
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