Utility appeals electrocution verdict

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West Penn Power Co. has appealed a $109 million verdict for the surviving family of an Irwin woman who was fatally burned by a power line that fell on her in her backyard as her two young daughters and mother-in-law looked on.

The jury award earlier this month in the death of 39-year-old Carrie Goretzka was the largest ever in Allegheny County.

But now West Penn attorneys contend Common Pleas Judge Michael Della Vecchia erred, among other ways, by allowing the jury to see "gruesome" photos of Goretzka, which prejudiced the jury more than they helped the panel understand her injuries.

The utility also takes issue with the closing argument made by the plaintiff's attorney Shanin Specter, which West Penn contends was full of "outrages" meant to inflame the jury.

Mr. Specter responded Monday that West Penn should spend less time fighting the verdict -- which included $48 million to compensate husband Michael Goretzka; the couple's daughters, who are now 8 and 6; and his mother, Joann, 69 -- and $61 million in punitive damages.

Goretzka was killed when she went outside to make a cell phone call when she saw a backyard tree burning because the line had again overheated, cutting power to the house in June 2009.

Her husband had complained about the line failing at least twice before. The jury agreed those failures were caused by West Penn technicians who didn't properly clean the power lines with a wire brush before splicing them, and the resulting rust caused the spliced line to overheat and fail.

The line fell on Goretzka while she was on the phone reporting the problem as her daughters stood nearby. Her mother-in-law tried to help but was burned in the process and watched her daughter-in-law suffer for more than 20 minutes while waiting for crews to turn off the power. She died three days later, after her badly burned arm was amputated in an effort to save her life.

legalnews - neigh_westmoreland


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