A Pennsylvania jury awarded one family $109 million in a wrongful death verdict, after a woman was electrocuted for 20 minutes while waiting for utility crews to shut off the power from a fallen utility line.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours in the case of Goretzka vs Allegheny Energy Inc., and juror Thomas Swogger told the Associated Press the panel “wanted to send a message that not applying safe practices across the board is not acceptable.”
In June 2009, 39-year-old Carrie Goretzka stepped outside her Allegheny County house to call 911 after seeing the trees in her backyard on fire from an overheated power line, which had also cut off power to her house. While dialing, the power line snapped and fell on her. The incident happened in front of Goretzka’s mother-in-law and two daughters, who were 2- and 4-years-old at the time.
At first, they tried to help, but were burned in the process and had to watch as Goretzka endured powerful electric shocks.
She died three days later in the hospital.
“We were in disbelief. You see these things like this on TV and you read about them in the paper see it on the news, but when it happens you can’t believe this is your family that it happened to,” Goretzka’s brother-in-law, Chuck Goretzka told ABC News.
Goretzka says the jury’s decision was bittersweet for the family, who were all in attendance for the three-week long trial against West Penn Power Co.
“There’s definitely relief knowing that the company’s recklessness and carelessness was taken into account,” Goretzka said. “Carrie was heard yesterday in court. This was a human being that died. We finally got some justice.”
Michael Goretzka, Carrie’s husband, hired attorney Shanin Specter to represent the family. Specter claimed in court the power company didn’t properly train its workers to use a wire brush to clean the power lines before they were spliced, causing rust to form, which resulted in the lines overheating and falling.
Michael Goretzka had also contacted the company twice in 2003 and 2004 after the power lines had dropped into his backyard, telling the company he “feared for his family’s life.”
“I’m gratified by the verdict. But I remain very concerned about the public safety issue of First Energy’s power lines falling. This dangerous situation must be fixed,” Specter told ABC News.
In closing arguments, West Penn attorney Avrum Levicoff said Goretzka put herself in harm’s way by standing under the power line while dialing for 911. According to AP, Levicoff said, “I’m not blaming anybody. What I am suggesting is you need to determine why that occurred.”
Calls to Levicoff’s law firm have not been returned to ABC News, but First Energy Spokesman Scott Sturgeoner says the company is reviewing the verdict to determine if they will appeal the jury’s decision.
“Let me say first that we respect the work and efforts of the jury during the lengthy trial, and we do thank them for their service,” Sturgeoner said. “We will carefully review the verdict over the next several days to determine if a repeal, if any, of the verdict is warranted.”