Home > Uncategorized > Risk Management – $109 million for powerline electrocution case

Risk Management – $109 million for powerline electrocution case

December 8, 2012

Noticed this story on Yahoo News, from ABC News, that a Pennsylvania jury awarded a family $109 million in a wrongful death case against a utility company after a mother was electrocuted from a fallen power line. Click Here for the article.

The article suggests that the evidence indicated that the powerline might not have been cleaned properly by utility workers in prior years, had rusted, had fallen into the yard five and six years earlier, and then overheated in the current situation causing the trees in the yard to catch fire, and ultimately snapped and fell on the woman as she called the utility company to report the current problem, with her mother-in-law and young daughters watching.

Per the article, one juror told Associated Press that the jury wanted to send a message that not applying safe practices across the board is not acceptable, which sounds to me like a punitive damages argument. The article doesn’t indicate how the damage award amount was determined or if punitive damages were awarded. Putting a value on a life is difficult, and in fact no value can be put on a life; however, juries are required to do so each day, and $109 million award definitely is large. The article also doesn’t indicate what actions were taken by the utility company after the powerline problems in 2003 and 2004 – apparently the powerline was repaired after those powerline falls and no apparent problems then occurred for several years.

From a risk management perspective unfortunately the article doesn’t provide us with sufficient information that I would want to know and that would be important to an evaluation; however, it should serve as a reminder to employees, management and boards about the importance of developing, using and monitoring risk management practices.

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