$4.4 million verdict after power line stayed live after crash

A teen who emerged unhurt from a single-vehicle wreck only to suffer electrocution when he touched a downed power line has won a $4.4 million verdict against a Power Co. in a negligence suit. A jury awarded actual damages to the plaintiff. The lawyers said a key factor in winning the verdict was countering a corporate policy under which the power company claimed evidence from the scene wasn’t subject to disclosure. Under the policy, “once they get notice that a non-employee is injured by line contact, that immediately triggers notice of anticipation of litigation, and they dispatch a claims person to the scene immediately so everything they do is under the umbrella of an attorney,” said a lawyer who represented the victim. “That gives them the claim of protection from having to disclose information because it’s in anticipation of litigation,” she said. As a Maryland personal injury lawyer I regularly encounter cases against corporate negligence and their failure to upkeep their equipment.

“The problem for them in this case is that, if it’s in anticipation of litigation – they said, and their witness said on the stand, that litigation was imminent – then they had a corresponding duty to preserve the evidence. And they didn’t do so in this case,” she said. The lawyers said an SUV in which the plaintiff was a passenger struck a roadside utility pole during a rainstorm in 2006. Two of three power lines on the pole shut down, but the third didn’t.

As the victim, then 13, walked away from the SUV, voltage surged through him, burning 4 percent of his body, burning off parts of both feet and leaving wounds in a hand and an elbow, his lawyers said. He had to have several toes amputated and is expected to undergo as many as five additional surgeries. His medical costs totaled about $600,000, the lawyer said, and he faces an estimated $3 million in life-care costs.

In his complaint, the plaintiff claimed that the power company’s safety systems, as required under the National Electrical Safety Code, should have shut down the power line on impact. He said two other lines, believed to have had 65-amp fuses, went dead as designed, but the third didn’t because its fuse was too big.

“We contended that was the only reasonable explanation,” the lawyer said. However, the company kept neither of the 65-amp fuses and left the other where it was, the lawyers said. “They left it out there for five years,” said the attorney. “We come to trial, and they’ve got little, if any, record-keeping on when they changed the fuses out and under what circumstances and no documentation of it, and so they’re left out there not having preserved the fuses, the cracked pole and the conductor where the boy made contact.”

That led the Judge to give the jury a charge of spoliation under which jurors could infer that missing evidence would have been unfavorable to power company unless the defense could “give a good explanation,” the lawyer said. “And, apparently, the jury found they didn’t explain it very well. So that was a pretty good happening for us,” he said. In its answer, the company denied negligence but asserted that, if there were any negligence, the plaintiff was barred from recovery because he was more than 50 percent responsible for proximately causing his injuries. “The judge charged contributory or comparative negligence on his failure to get around the live wires. That did go to the jury, and the jury found him 0 percent negligent,” the lawyer said.

If you or a loved one has been subjected to a corporate negligence or their failure to maintain their equipment call me at 1-800 320-0080 to make an appointment at one of my conveniently located offices in Baltimore or Rockville, Maryland for a free initial consultation.