Wrongful death lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report on a recent settlement between Western Pennsylvania Electric Utility and the family of a woman killed by one of its power lines. In addition to the $105 million settlement, her family is also requesting the company increase the frequency of power line inspections.
The accident occurred in 2009, when Carrie Goretzka, a 39-year-old mother of two, was electrocuted by a downed power line on her property. She suffered burns on over 85% of her body and died in the hospital three days after the incident. Her family subsequently filed suit against West Pennsylvania Electric Utility and went to trial, ultimately winning $109 million by jury decision. The company appealed, and finally settled for $105 million, the largest civil settlement in state history.
Goretzka went outside into her backyard in June 2009 because the power in her home shut off and she intended to call West Penn to report it. There are no witnesses, but her family contends that the downed power line fell on top of her when she stepped onto her lawn. Her two daughters and mother-in-law ran outside when they heard the commotion, only to find Goretzka laying on the lawn engulfed in flames and smoke.
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Under the terms of the settlement, West Penn is required to inspect more than 25,000 miles of power lines in the Western Pennsylvania area, and to retrain its service workers in regular intervals. Throughout the course of the trial Goretzka’s family introduced evidence showing that the company disregarded its own internal procedures for service and failed to use proper splicing techniques on Goretzka’s power lines.
Goretzka’s mother-in-law provided an emotional and telling testimony at trial. She described her own futile efforts to save the woman after finding her on the lawn with the power line on top of her. She ran into the yard but was thrown off her feet by the powerful electric current coursing through the ground of Goretzka’s backyard.
She immediately called 911 and West Penn, however, it took the company 20 minutes to shut off the power. Ultimately, due to the delay in power shutoff, it took emergency personnel about 45 minutes to sedate Goretzka and transport her via ambulance to the hospital.
Now that the settlement is finalized, the woman’s family is strongly enforcing its commitment to make West Penn perform repeated inspections of automatic splices on its power lines (instead of one-time inspections). The company claims that their request is misguided and supported by inadmissible and confidential documents. West Penn’s spokesperson stated that Goretzka’s family’s requests have no basis in professional or industry opinion.
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Goretzka’s family remains adamant that one-time inspections are not sufficient, as they specifically requested the splices be inspected more than once and on all Pennsylvania public utilities, not just those operated by West Penn. The company, however, believes that the documents the family used to support their requests do not support this frequency of inspections. It claims it would be discriminatory to hold West Penn to such a standard and would place a substantial burden on the company. It also claims these extensive requirements would have a chilling effect on its willingness to seek settlements in the future.
A similar lawsuit was recently filed in Missouri, after two children died during the Fourth of July weekend of 2012 from electrocution. The family is now suing Ameren Missouri Utility Company for failing to warn them of the need to install electrical protection devices (ground fault interrupters) on the dock to prevent shocks.
If your loved one was injured by a downed power line or in a similar incident, contact one of our accident and injury attorneys who can inform you of your legal rights and options, free of charge.