A jury has awarded a $109 million verdict in a wrongful death case against West Penn Power Co. The award was to the husband and family of Carrie Goretzka, a woman who was killed by a falling power line in her backyard. Mrs. Goretzka burned for more than 20 minutes while her mother-in-law and two young daughters watched and waited for utility crews to turn off the electricity. One of the jurors, after the verdict was returned, said that the jurors, who deliberated less than two hours before returning the verdict, “wanted to send a message that not applying safe practices across the board is not acceptable.” Evidence was presented that West Penn Power Co. failed to properly train workers for years before the June 2009 death, even after the victim’s husband told the utility months before that he was concerned for his family’s well-being because the spliced power line in their backyard had failed twice previously.
Evidence at trial also indicated that the power company didn’t properly train its workers to use a wire brush to clean the power lines before they were spliced. By failing to do that, it was said that the splices were more likely to rust, which causes them to overheat and fail. Mrs. Goretzka was killed when she went outside to make a cellphone call when she saw a backyard tree burning because the line had once again overheated, cutting power to the house. The line fell on her while she spoke on the phone, as her two daughters, aged four and two, stood nearby. The victim’s mother-in-law was also there and tried to help, but was burned in the process and was forced, along with the children, to watch Mrs. Goretzka suffer as she was repeatedly shocked.
Mrs. Goretzka had several fingers severed from her left hand and her left arm was amputated as doctors sought to save her, but she died three days later in a local hospital. The lawyers for West Penn argued that Mrs. Goretzka put herself in harm’s way by standing under the power line while making the cell call. That obviously didn’t play well with the jurors. The verdict was the largest personal injury award in the history of Allegheny County. This was a tragic event and one that should never have happened. Shanin Specter, a lawyer with Kline & Specter, represented the family and he did a very good job for them.
Source: Clarion Ledger
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