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ARTICLE ID 29744

$________ CASH - UTILITY LIABILITY - FIVE- YEAR-OLD BOY RECEIVES ________ VOLT SHOCK FROM UNLOCKED ELECTRICAL TRANSFORMER - AMPUTATION OF CHILD'S ARMS - EXTENSIVE ABDOMINAL INJURIES - LIABILITY ADMITTED.

Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

This was an action brought on behalf of the minor male plaintiff, age five at the time of the subject accident. The plaintiff contended that the defendant electric company was negligent in failing to rectify a dangerous condition with regard to a transformer which was owned and operated by the defendant utility.

On October 2, ________, the minor plaintiff received a ________ volt electrical shock when he placed his hands inside an unlocked, unsecured padmounted electrical transformer owned and operated by the Wisconsin Electric Power Company. On October 4, ________, the defendant’s Chief Executive Officer publicly admitted responsibility for the accident. A computer search of Wisconsin Electric Power Company’s records indicated that on August 9, ________, a contractor working as a cable locator had notified Wisconsin Electric Power Company that the subject transformer and another pedestal in the immediate area were missing their padlocks. The defendant utility did nothing to correct the situation. The transformer was located within an apartment complex where numerous young children resided and played.

After receiving first aid management and stabilization at the scene of the accident, the plaintiff, who remained conscious, was immediately taken to the Milwaukee County Medical Complex by a "Flight for Life" helicopter. Upon admission to the emergency room, it was noted that he was still conscious and had sustained extensive second and third degree burns to both his arms and a massive 13 by 15 centimeter open abdominal wound from the exiting electrical current. Due to the massive injuries to his muscle tissues, the plaintiff began excreting myoglobin in his urine.

Myoglobinuria is a life-threatening situation following severe muscular trauma wherein large amounts of myoglobin appear as a thick burgundy colored substance in the urine which can result in acute kidney failure.

Once at the hospital, the plaintiff’s physicians immediately performed surgery. The wound on his abdomen was debrided and repaired. His stomach and liver were found to be severely burned and surgeries were performed such that his stomach was resected to two-thirds of its original size. The treating orthopedic surgeon found the plaintiff’s left upper arm to be burned much worse than the right upper arm. The left arm was completely destroyed from the fingertips to the lateral chest wall. After incising the circular skin and leaving a flap, the left arm was completely amputated at the shoulder level. The orthopedic surgeon indicated that nearly two hours after the plaintiff sustained the ________ volt electrical shock, the temperature of the inner muscle tissue in the left arm still remained at ________ degrees. The right upper arm was noted to have obvious burns and desiccated skin from the distal two-thirds of the forearm down to the hand which was chalky white and hard with contracted fingers and an open wound at the tip of the thumb and index finger. The right arm was found to have some bleeding in the upper arm as well as in the upper right forearm, but very little in the distal extremities. The right arm was initially preserved through extensive surgeries.

Forty-eight hours after the plaintiff’s left arm was amputated at the shoulder, he was returned to surgery for a follow-up evaluation and assessment of the level of injury involving the right arm. At this time, there was still evidence of desiccated skin and questionably viable tissue from the distal two-thirds of the forearm down to the hand. A fasciotomy was performed on the right arm commencing in the upper forearm. There was little to no bleeding from the distal two-thirds of the forearm down to the wrist. After finding that the right arm, hand and distal half of the forearm were cold and the musculature and skin were not perfused, the orthopedic surgeon amputated the right forearm below the elbow. The preservation of the right elbow provided a rehabilitative benefit for the plaintiff in the future.

Approximately one month after the October 2, ________, accident, the plaintiff underwent an extensive 16 hour surgery wherein his massive abdominal wound was reconstructed from muscle and tissue excised from his right thigh. This surgery was performed at an adjoining hospital which had more sophisticated microscopes necessary to link the blood vessels of the flap to his remaining abdominal tissue. This surgery is believed to have been the first ever to be performed in the country.

Upon discharge from the hospital two months after the accident, the plaintiff still required regular follow-up medical care with the treating pediatric surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, plastic reconstructive surgeon and occupational therapist. The plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon indicated that because the plaintiff’s right upper arm was amputated through the mid- portion of developing bone, the arm would overgrow the amputation stump and have a tendency to develop bone spurs over time. The orthopedic surgeon maintained that throughout the plaintiff’s growth years, he would require excision of osteophytes or stump revisions once every three to four years until reaching maturity. The treating plastic surgeon indicated that the plaintiff would require several additional surgeries in the future, including scar revision of the entire abdominal incision, revision of the skin graft donor site on the right lower leg, repair and revision of a ventral hernia where the vascular anastomies of the free flap were performed in addition to surgery to relive tensions of the residual scars.

The plaintiff was ultimately fitted with myoelectric prosthetics for both limbs and his treating prosthetist indicated that these myoelectric prostheses would require replacement every three years until adulthood, and every seven years thereafter in addition to maintenance and repairs. The plaintiff’s experts were prepared to testify that the plaintiff will require occupational therapy, psychiatric and psychological consultations and tutors. The plaintiff will also require special equipment, attendant care, rehabilitation assessments and vocational evaluations throughout his life.

Although the defendant admitted responsibility for the subject accident, the plaintiffs sought to recover treble damages pursuant to Wis. Statutes. Sec. ________ which makes a public utility liable to the person injured for treble the amount of damages sustained as a consequence of any violation of the Wisconsin State Electrical Code. The defense to the plaintiff’s claim for treble damages was based upon Wisconsin case law which the defendant interpreted as providing that to fall under the protection of the treble damages statute, a complainant must be a direct customer of the utility. The defendant argued that since the plaintiff was not a direct customer of the utility, but was simply visiting the premises of his aunt at the time of the accident, he could not avail himself of the protection afforded by the treble damages statute.

The plaintiff additionally claimed punitive damages based upon the evidence allegedly demonstrating that in failing to rectify the extremely dangerous condition which resulted in injury to the plaintiff, the defendant utility exhibited a willful and wanton disregard of the rights of others. The plaintiff’s evidence indicated that although the padmounted electrical transformer involved in this accident was originally installed by the defendant electrical utility in December of ________, the defendant utility company could not produce any maintenance or inspection records establishing that the subject transformer had ever been inspected. The plaintiff’s evidence further indicated that of the ________ padmounted transformers in the operating district where the accident occurred, the defendant only had inspection records for ________ units. The subject transformer was one of the ________ units for which the defendant had no inspection records.

During the course of Discovery, the plaintiffs established that the field report which indicated the subject transformer was missing its padlock was entered into the defendant’s computer system by a data entry clerk. This clerk testified that she was unaware that an unlocked padmounted transformer was a hazardous situation which required immediate corrective measures. It was further established by the plaintiffs that the data entry clerk had participated and attended electrical utility safety awareness programs prior to the accident wherein potential hazards related to electrical equipment were addressed. The plaintiffs also established that at least on other employee working in the cable location department of the electrical utility had access to and/or read the August 9, ________, field report wherein it was noted that the subject padmounted transformer was missing its padlock.

Through their investigation, the plaintiffs also learned that prior to this accident, on several other occasions cable locating contractors had submitted field reports to the defendant utility notifying of existing hazardous conditions involving the utility’s equipment.

Discovery also revealed that in ________, the defendant electrical utility company launched a Hazard Awareness Safety Program wherein all employees, including meter readers, were instructed to report hazardous conditions observed in the field.

Specifically mentioned as part of this program were damaged, unlocked or open padmounted equipment. Depositions of the meter readers who read the meters at the apartment complex where the accident occurred revealed that one of these meter readers was unaware of what a padmounted electrical transformer was. The plaintiffs established that the meter readers for the utility were within 25 feet of the subject transformer months before the subject accident.

The plaintiff’s evidence also indicated that in ________, the defendant utility began installing an additional locking mechanism on the doors of their padmounted equipment known as a pentabolt, but that the defendant failed to install this safeguard on the subject transformer. The transformer involved in the accident was a livefront transformer, meaning that upon opening one door of the transformer, the live electrical components of the transformer were exposed. As early as ________, the defendant began installing an alternative electrical padmounted transformer known as a deadfront unit. The deadfront transformers were manufactured with two doors within their housing. The second door of the deadfront transformer requires a special tool to gain access to the internal components which only employees of the defendant utility have. It was also established by the plaintiffs that in ________, the costs incurred by a utility company for a deadfront transformer in comparison to a livefront transformer were minimal.

The plaintiff further established that the padlock missing from the subject transformer was one of two types of locks used exclusively by the defendant utility for purposes of securing their livefront padmounted equipment. The plaintiffs established that the utility company knowingly distributed keys to the padlocks on the livefront transformers to at least five electrical contractors working at any given time within the service area of the electrical utility.

In April of ________, nearly six months after the subject accident, the defendant launched a safety education program which included applying a "Mr. Ouch" warning sticker to its padmounted transformers. The plaintiffs established that the "Mr. Ouch" safety sticker was developed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association in January of ________ to specifically warn small children to stay away from open padmounted equipment and to further prevent accidents involving small children coming in contact with the active elements of padmounted transformers. The plaintiff contended that numerous managerial level employees and electrical engineers of the defendant utility, some of whom were members of its safety and accident prevention committee, were aware of the availability of the "Mr. Ouch" safety sticker as early as ________.

Two weeks before trial was scheduled to commence, the case resolved by way of a $________ cash settlement.

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