$109 million electrocution case verdict is Allegheny County's largest

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When an Allegheny County jury announced a $109 million verdict, including $61 million in punitive damages, in favor of a woman who died after receiving an electric shock from a fallen power line in her yard, it was the largest award in the county's history by $3 million.

Carrie Goretzka was fatally shocked when a power line fell on her as she stood in her Irwin yard on June 2, 2009.

The 39-year-old woman was inside on a sunny, clear day when the power went out. She looked outside and saw trees in her yard burning. Ms. Goretzka retrieved her cell phone from her car to call 911 and stood in the yard to get reception.

The line, which was still electrified, fell on her and set her on fire, leaving her with burns on 80 to 90 percent of her body, according to the plaintiffs' papers in the case. Ms. Goretzka died three days later.

The jury's verdict includes $48 million in compensatory damages and $61 million in punitive damages.

The compensatory damages includes $10 million for a wrongful death claim and loss of companionship; $29 million to Ms. Goretzka's estate for pain and suffering as well as survival claims; $1 million to her mother-in-law for her emotional distress in seeing the incident and for a personal injury claim for burns sustained in trying to rescue Ms. Goretzka; and $8 million, or $4 million a piece, for Ms. Goretzka's daughters for their emotional distress in seeing their mother receive a fatal electric shock.

The next highest award out of Allegheny County was the $106.1 million award in a coal mining contract dispute from spring 2011. But the state Superior Court vacated $90.3 million in future damages in Allegheny Energy Supply v. Wolf Run Mining because the trial judge calculated the damages based upon the market price of coal from when the case went to trial.

Other notable awards and settlements to come out of Allegheny County in recent years include 2011's $10 million medical malpractice verdict in Rettger v. UPMC Shadyside, and the 2010 verdict, for $7.8 million, in Decker v. Consol Energy Inc., for negligent maintenance.

legalnews

Amaris Elliott-Engel: aelliott-engel@alm.com or 1-215-557-2354. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.


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