$1,375,000 – Ann Elizabeth Ritsick vs. Pennsylvania Power and Light

On November 23, 1987, David Ritsick, then age 29 was fatally electrocuted when a crane at a construction site contacted an overhead power line. Suit was instituted against Pennsylvania Power & Light, the utility owning the overhead power line, Gilberton Power Company, the owner and developer of the construction project, Bechtel Power Corp., the project engineer, and GCC Realty Company, the owner of the land.

Subsequent to the accident Bechtel Construction, Inc., plaintiffs employer, the general contractor for the site, erected goal posts on either side of the overhead power lines to barricade them from crane contact. Pennsylvania Power & Light installed orange balls and a trapeze on the power lines to accentuate their visibility.

Plaintiff brought suit against Pennsylvania Power & Light alleging that it should have taken precautions to prevent foreseeable crane/power line contact, particularly at a known construction project. Pennsylvania Power & Light was involved in coordination in connection with the project since it was a co-generation plant. When finished, the plant would burn kulm, generate electricity, and sell that electricity to Pennsylvania Power & Light. At the time of the accident, Pennsylvania Power & Light was supplying electricity into the plant which was not yet completed, to allow various equipment to be tested. After completion, it was intended that electricity would be sold from the plant to Pennsylvania Power & Light.

Plaintiff was prepared to establish that Pennsylvania Power & Light had a history of numerous prior crane contacts. A review of Pennsylvania Power & Light’s computerized daily system of operations reports reflected eight contacts between construction equipment and its overhead power lines in the 90 days before the accident. Plaintiff asserted that it was foreseeable that cranes would be working in the area of the transmission lines, that Pennsylvania Power & Light had adequate notice both of the construction activity and the foreseeable nature of crane/power line contact, and should have taken any of a number of alternate safety precautions including the installation of orange balls, trapezes, insulation of the wire or burial of the wire.

Plaintiff sued Bechtel Power, the engineer for the project, alleging that it failed to design the site so that the transmission wires were either buried underground or protected by goal posts. A post-accident memo from Bechtel Power dated the day after the accident was discovered in which it urged installation of goal posts and indicated that they were proven an effective method of reducing or eliminating crane/power line contact.

Gilberton Power Company was the developer and owner of the project. It frequently had personnel on-site. Gilberton had entered into a Power Purchase Agreement with Pennsylvania Power & Light whereby Gilberton warranted that they would prevent any equipment from contacting the overhead transmission lines. In fact, Gilberton had notified Pennsylvania Power &. Light of what it considered to be a hazardous situation involving power lines on another portion of the project. Safety modifications were made to avoid inadvertent contact at that other location.

Injuries and Damages: The plaintiff s decedent was 29 years old at the time of his death. He left as his survivors his 27-year-old widow and his six-week-old daughter. The decedent had earned $26,228.00 in 1986 and $29,764.00 in 1987 up to the date of his death. Plaintiffs economist estimated a loss of earning capacity in the range of $1,124,837.00 to $2,469,104.00. Defendants’ economist estimated the range of loss of earnings capacity in the range of $548,247.00 to $629,077.00. Medical and funeral expenses were approximately $7,500.00.

Outcome of the Case: The case settled for $1,375,000, an additional confidential settlement contributed by an undisclosed defendant, plus the assignment of Pennsylvania Power & Light’s contractual right to collect $310,000 from Gilberton pursuant to an indemnity agreement. Gilberton Power Company, Bechtel Power Corp., and GCC Realty, who shared the same insurance carrier, contributed $975,000. Pennsylvania Power &. Light contributed $400,000 along with the assignment of its right to collect $310,000 from Gilberton arising out of an indemnity contained agreement in the Power Purchase Agreement between Gilberton Power Corp. and Pennsylvania Power & Light.

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