On December 6, 2012, a jury awarded $109 million in damages, the largest award in Allegheny County history, in a case involving a woman who died three days after being electrocuted by a fallen power line.
On a sunny day in June 2009, Carrie Goretzka was at home when the power in her house went out. She looked outside and saw the trees in her backyard caught fire. Seeing sparks from a pole that supported a power line, Goretzka went outside to get her cell phone to call 911. While she was outside, the 7,200-volt line disconnected from the pole and fell on her. Goretzka’s mother-in-law and daughters witnessed Goretzka being set on fire by the live power line. Goretzka suffered severe burns on 80 to 90 percent of her body, resulting in her death three days after the incident.
Plaintiff, Goretzka’s Estate, brought a lawsuit against West Penn Power Company and Allegheny Power for negligence and outrageous conduct. Plaintiffs alleged that the power lines were a public safety issue because improper installation caused the lines to routinely fall. Plaintiffs also claimed that the power lines had not been properly fused and grounded, nor had the conductor been cleaned with a wire brush prior to being installed as required under Defendants’ own installation standards. In response, Defendants argued that Goretzka acted negligently in approaching the power line, and that evidence showed that she had tried to pull down the power line from the burning trees.
The judge instructed the jury that the highest degree of care must be used with inherently dangerous instruments, such as the high-voltage electricity. The jury reached a unanimous verdict for Plaintiff, awarding Plaintiff $109 million, including $61 million in punitive damages.
COURT: Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas
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