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ARTICLE ID 29283

$________ INCLUDING $________ PUNITIVE AWARD - WRONGFUL DEATH OF 15-YEAR-OLD GIRL BY ELECTROCUTION - GROSS NEGLIGENCE ALLEGED AGAINST DEFENDANT UTILITY COMPANY FOR FAILURE TO PROPERLY MAINTAIN POWER LINE IN SAFE CONDITION - DECEDENT CONTACTS DOWNED POWER LINE HANGING TWO FEET OFF THE GROUND.

Prince George's County, Maryland.

This was a death action brought by the plaintiffs mother and father of the 15-year-old female decedent, who was electrocuted while walking along a trail in a wooded area behind the Garden Apartments where her stepsister resided when she came in contact with a downed power line hanging approximately two feet off the ground. The plaintiff alleged gross negligence on the part of the defendant Potomac Electric Power Company for it’s failure to properly install, maintain and repair the line. There was no evidence of conscious pain and suffering offered as it appeared that the decedent’s death was instantaneous. The plaintiff mother and father, who were never married and lived in different areas of the country, each claimed loss of society and companionship occasioned by the death of the decedent.

The location where the power line had fallen was a trail, or path in a wooded area situated behind garden apartments. The wooded area was owned by a private individual and the defendant utility had an easement across the property where the utility lines ran.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant knew, or should have known of the dangerous condition regarding the power line in question and offered evidence allegedly indicating five specific examples of notice to the defendants over the 22 year period since the power line’s installation. The plaintiff’s wood expert testified that the cross arm to which the utility lines were fastened was defective when originally installed in that the wood of which the cross arm was constructed contained a boxed hear and was excessively knotty, rendering it weak and susceptible to failure. The plaintiff offered evidence that approximately ten years after installation, one side of the cross-arm broke, causing the power line to fall. In repairing the line, the defendant simply attached the fallen wire to the other side of the pole on the remaining portion of the cross arm. The plaintiff’s wood expert and expert electrician maintained that this method of repair was improper and inherently dangerous in that it failed to correct the underlying problem of the cross-arm itself and required that the power lines be crossed.

The plaintiff further presented an individual who was an electrician by trade, who testified that he came upon the downed wire while walking his dog approximately 30 days prior to the subject incident. This witness related that he tested the wire with a hot static probe and found it to be live, following which he immediately telephone the defendant utility, but the defendant failed to respond. This call was not reflected in the defendant’s records and the defendant denied ever receiving the call. The plaintiff presented another witness who testified that approximately one week prior to the subject incident, he also telephoned the defendant to report the fallen power line. This call was also not reflected in the defendant’s records and the defendant denied ever receiving the call. The plaintiff presented a third witness who testified that two days prior to the decedent’s death, he called the defendant to report the downed wire. This call was reflected in the defendant’s records. The evidence indicated that the defendant responded to the call by sending a repairman out to the scene, but the repairman reported back that he could not find the fallen line.

During the course of the trial, the defendant denied liability and alleged contributory negligence on the part of the decedent in touching the wire. The defendant relied upon it’s own records to refute the plaintiff’s assertion that the defendant had been notified of the dangerous condition on several different occasions prior to the subject accident. The defendant contended that it was notified only once and that it timely and properly responded to the call. The defendant admitted that the report of a fallen power line constitutes a "Priority 1" call, but maintained that it appropriately responded to the call in accordance with it’s standard procedure. The defendant alternatively argued that even if it were at fault, it’s actions or inactions with regard to the line constituted simple negligence and could not be characterized as gross negligence.

The jury found for the plaintiff and returned a verdict of $________ compensatory damages and $________ punitive damages.

The compensatory verdict was reduced to $________ pursuant to Maryland’s Tort Reform Statute. The case is presently on appeal at the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court. Both parties have petitioned for certiorari.

Plaintiff’s wood expert: James Taylor from Washington, D.C.

Plaintiff’s expert electrician: Roy Martin from Atlanta, Ga.

Smith vs. PEPCO. Case no. CAL 87-________; Judge Jacob Levin, 8-88.

Attorney for plaintiff father: Jay. R. Goldman of Alexander & Cleaver in Fort Washington, Md.; Attorney for plaintiff mother: Steven Cooper of Silver Springs, Md.; Attorney for defendant: Kevin McCarthy of Landover, Md.

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