A jury has found San Diego Gas & Electric negligent in the deaths of four Marines who were killed when their helicopter hit an unlit utility tower on Camp Pendleton in 2004. Jurors awarded more than $15 million in economic damages in the wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the families of the Marines. The jury found the utility failed to install safety lights to prevent accidents and that two of SDG&E’s representatives acted with malice by not ordering the installation of lights or markers on the tower. The parents of all four Marines should receive $2.125 million each in damages in the wrongful-death case. Jurors also found the wife of one the Marines, 1st Lt. Michael S. Lawlor, was entitled to $6.7 million. The accident occurred in January of 2004, when two helicopter crews were practicing nighttime maneuvers. The crews were using night-vision goggles. The four Marines were killed when one helicopter struck the 135-foot utility tower.
During the trial, lawyers for the families told jurors the accident would not have happened if lights or other markers had been installed on the tower. They said the utility company was negligent for operating under a policy where lights were only used on structures 200-feet or higher, even though company officials knew most collisions occurred at lower altitudes. SDG&E blamed everybody but itself in this case. Lawyers for SDG&E argued the crash was a result of pilot error, not the company’s negligence. They told the jurors that Marines involved in the training knew the area and had been briefed about the power lines. One SDG&E lawyer contended the Marine Corps bore the blame because it was obligated to notify the utility of any hazardous obstacles. Jurors didn’t buy any of this and awarded $10.1 million in punitive damages against SDG&E to each family in the second phase of the trial. This brought the total jury verdict in this important case to $55.6 million.
Source: Associated Press
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