Two Philadelphia attorneys have secured a $10.34 million settlement for a Lehigh County electrician who suffered second- and third-degree burns during an electrical explosion at Lucent Technologies’ Allentown plant.
The settlement between Lucent and plaintiffs Donald and Anita Miller was reached late Friday, after the case was transferred from Philadelphia to Lehigh County. Eunice Trevor of Brigham & Trevor, who represented the Millers with co-counsel Martin Brigham, said the settlement is believed to be one of the largest personal injury settlements in Lehigh County history.
Terry and Gloria Reenock, additional plaintiffs in Miller v. Lucent Technologies Inc., are slated to receive $665,000 from Lucent for Terry Reenock’s injuries, a Brigham & Trevor news release indicates. Both settlements are in addition to earlier confidential recoveries secured against another defendant, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said.
According to the plaintiffs’ settlement memorandum, the events giving rise to the lawsuit occurred in December 1999 when Donald Miller and Terry Reenock, both journeyman electricians, were working for Lucent contractor Orlando Diefenderfer Electrical Contractors Inc.
The men were assigned to remove and replace a piece of equipment within Lucent’s K-I switchgear cabinet, the memorandum states. Brigham said a switchgear cabinet is a box measuring approximately 4 feet by 10 feet by 6 feet that contains a switch used to control the destination of electricity running through a cable that comes up through the floor of the cabinet.
The plaintiffs’ settlement memorandum indicates that the K-I cabinet was at Lucent’s Substation K in Allentown. The substations distribute electrical power throughout the company’s plant, the court document states, with each substation supplied by two feeder cables, both with 12,470 volts running through it.
The feeder cables, the memorandum states, fed into two transformers, K-I and K-2. One of the cables ran up through the floor of the K-l switchgear cabinet. That cabinet also housed a selector switch used to select the power source for the K-I transformer.
“Lucent reserved the responsibility to de-energize the metal-enclosed K-I switchgear cabinet before the work began,” the plaintiffs claimed in their memorandum. The plaintiffs asserted in the document that two Lucent electricians, in violation of the company’s policies, confirmed that an earlier shift had turned off the electricity running through the feeder cable in the switchgear cabinet and in fact tested the cabinet before certifying to the Diefenderfer employees that it was safe to begin working.
But the Lucent electricians, the memorandum alleges, did not warn the Diefenderfer team that “a second source of high voltage electricity – the 12,470-volt ‘M3′ feeder cable – also fed into the cabinet.” It was this second cable that caused an arc explosion, the plaintiffs contended.
An arc explosion, Brigham said, occurs when wires are separated and electricity with sufficient energy to create an explosion travels through the air. The settlement memorandum states that Donald Miller was inside the cabinet when such an explosion occurred and the electrical current passed through his body.
“The heat of the arc ignited Miller’s clothing, worsening his injuries,” the court document states. “Miller suffered second and third degree burns to more than 60 percent of his body in the accident, requiring 54 rounds of reconstructive surgery. Mr. Reenock, who stood just outside the cabinet when the accident occurred, was burned by the thermal and radiant energy of the arc, suffering second-degree bums to 20 percent of his body.”
In their settlement memorandum, the plaintiffs asserted that Lucent violated its own and industry safety standards on the day of the accident. Among other allegations, the memorandum states that had one switch been thrown, the electrical load would have been transferred from the K-I switchgear cabinet to a companion transformer, making the K-I cabinet safe for the Diefenderfer employees.
According to Brigham, the defense argued that it was not Lucent’s, but rather Diefenderfer’s, responsibility to make the work area safe. But the attorney said it was videotaped depositions of Lucent employees who indicated that electrical safety was, in fact, Lucent’s responsibility that proved a powerful bargaining tool.
According to Brigham, the plaintiffs’ attorneys used a video settlement brochure to make their case during extensive pretrial mediation. In addition to the videotaped depositions, the electronics brochure included detailed computer animation of the accident, Brigham said.
Brigham added that video settlement brochures are valuable tools in cases of this magnitude. He pointed out that both sides on a case are able to view not only witness testimony, but also demeanor.
A statement from the Brigham & Trevor firm claimed that Donald Miller’s medical expenses totaled $1.4 million and that he is currently disabled from his work as a journeyman electrician, where he was earning $45,000 per year. Terry Reenock, according to the firm’s statement, incurred medical expenses of $55,000, with wage losses of $23,000.
Defense counsel for Lucent included J. Brian Johnson of Duane Morris in Allentown; M. Richard Merklinger of Hack Piro O’Day Merklinger Wallace & McKenna in Florham Park, N.J.; John J. Snyder of Rawle & Henderson in Philadelphia; and Arnd N. von Waldow of Reed Smith in Pittsburgh.
A spokesman for Lucent declined to comment on the settlement.