Family Of Fatally Injured Utility Employee Awarded $3,875,000 In Civil Claim
John Doe, an employee of a large power utility company, was a member of one of several crews that were attempting to restore electrical power to a portion of the city, as a result of damage to an electrical power box located alongside a public road. Located one half mile from the area of the repair was an electrical vault owned by the Phone Company. The vault housed the equipment that provided voice and data service for the local residents. When the outage occurred, an alarm was sent to the office of the Phone Company alerting them that electrical power was no longer being supplied, and accordingly, voice and data service had ceased. The Phone Company dispatched one of their technicians to address the problem.
As the technician arrived at the vault, he saw the crews of the utility company working at the site of the outage. The technician, after determining that there was in fact no electrical power flowing to the vault, and after failing to restore power from inside the vault, determined that it would be necessary to use a temporary generator to provide electrical power to the equipment in the vault. After connecting the generator to the vault, the technician turned the generator on and made several attempts to supply power to the vault’s equipment. On each attempt, the equipment would become energized for 30 seconds, and then power was once again lost. After several failed attempts, the technician assumed that there was a problem with the wiring in the vault, ceased further efforts, and called for a repair team to address the problem the following morning.
One half mile away, John Doe, 42 years old, and the father of four children and two step-children, was holding onto a metal light pole, when he accidently brushed up against an exposed high voltage line, that had been unearthed by another crew member. That crew member, in violation of his company’s policy, failed to ground the high voltage line. At the same time that John Doe came into contact with the high voltage line, the Phone Company technician made one of his attempts to supply power to the electrical vault, not knowing that the electrical current was flowing into that high voltage line, and not into the vault’s equipment . When John Doe came into contact with the power line he was suddenly struck by 7,500 volts of electricity, instantly causing his death. Unknown to the technician and the Phone Company, was the fact that when the vault was constructed and installed ten years earlier, a section of the vault’s electrical panel had been mis-wired by the Electrical Subcontractor.
The widow of John Doe, on behalf of herself and the children retained Rose, Klein & Marias to represent them for the damages they sustained as a result of the death of John Doe. A worker’s compensation claim was filed by the firm’s San Diego Office. Dennis J. Sherwin, a partner and trial lawyer in firm’s Ontario office filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against the Phone Company and the Electrical Subcontractor. Mr. Sherwin claimed that the Phone Company was negligent in the management, control, and inspection of the electrical vault, as well as the construction of the vault. Mr. Sherwin also claimed that the Phone Company negligently trained the technician, and did not have proper procedures to follow in power outage situations. Mr. Sherwin claimed that the Electrical Subcontractor was negligent in the installation, inspection and testing of the vault’s electrical panel. The Phone Company claimed that (1) the cause of John Doe’s death was the failure of his employer, the utility company, to follow the basic safety precaution of grounding the high voltage line, and had the line been grounded, Jon Doe would not have been electrocuted, (2) it did not know, and had no way of knowing, that the panel was mis-wired, (3) that it relied on the expertise of the Electrical Sub Contractor to properly install and inspect the vault’s equipment, (4) that the technician followed all company procedures and acted reasonably under the circumstances, and (5) that there were sources, other than the vault, from which the electricity could have come. The Electrical Subcontractor claimed that (1) the cause of John Doe’s death was the failure of his employer, the utility company, to follow the basic safety precaution of grounding the high voltage line, and had the line been grounded, Jon Doe would not have been electrocuted, (2) it followed proper installation and inspection procedures, (3) that the work was approved and accepted by the Phone Company, (4) that the manner in which the electrical panel was manufactured was unusual and did not follow customary wiring diagrams, and (5) that there were sources, other than the vault, from which the electricity could have come.
After attending three mediation sessions, and shortly before trial, the defendants offered $3,875,000 to settle the case. The offer was accepted by the widow. In addition to the civil settlement, the widow and children received an additional $500,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.