$4,000,000 – Burned Laborer Accident

A worker who was severely burned when his construction crew drilled into an underground power line in West Philadelphia has settled with PECO Energy and three other parties for $4 million.

The worker was using a jackhammer to dig a trench to run a sewer line to a new neighborhood fruit and vegetable stand when he was injured, said Robert J. Mongeluzzi, who represented the worker with David L. Kwass, both of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bandesky. The settlement was reached Friday.

Two other laborers were electrocuted in the accident, which occurred Aug. 3, 1999, on North 40th Street. Representatives of the estates of the deceased workers settled with the four parties for $350,000 and $300,000, their lawyers said.

In Thompson v. PECO Energy Co., Dorian Thompson, the surviving worker, sued PECO as well as the Central Locating Service, a vendor hired by PECO to mark with red spray paint the locations of PECO’s underground power lines at construction sites, according to court documents in the suit, which was filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

Thompson also sued Joseph White, a plumber working along with Thompson for the contractor on the fruit and vegetable stand project, as well as Pennsylvania One Call System, a statewide communications network in Pittsburgh that receives and processes calls from contractors and others planning to dig underground and needing to know where to avoid underground lines.

The location of the underground power line had not been marked at the time of the accident. The dispute in the case was over the deadline for the utility or its vendor to have visited the construction site to locate underground lines.

The breakdown of payment among the defendants was confidential, the attorneys said. But Joseph M. Donley, who represented PECO, said that out of all the defendants, his client and PA One Call paid the least amount combined toward the settlement.

“PECO is confident that they are not at all responsible for this accident,” said Donley, of Kittredge Donley Elson Fullem & Embick.

Basil A. DiSipio of Lavin Coleman O’Neil Ricci Finarelli & Gray represented Central Locating Service. He declined to comment yesterday because of the confidential nature of the settlement details.

Kelly A. Williams of McGuire Woods in Pittsburgh, who represented PA One Call, said yesterday that her client paid a “diminutive amount” and did not admit any liability.

The plumber contracted to install the sewer line, Joseph White, had called PA One Call on July 30, 1999, a Friday night, to alert the utilities that they would be digging underground, according to court documents. White gave the network a partially incorrect address – the wrong street number but the correct cross streets, Mongeluzzi said.

Under state law, utilities have a certain number of “working days” to respond to these calls, and PA One Call’s user manual defines “working day” as Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thompson argued that under this calculation, PECO had until the end of the second working day, the following Tuesday at 4 p.m., to respond to the call, according to court documents. The accident occurred on Tuesday at 4:20 p.m.

But PECO argued that the contractor had to wait three working days after calling PA One Call and that he had drilled too early, according to court documents.

PECO had assigned the construction project to its vendor, Central Locating Service, but the CLS employee did not get to the site until Wednesday, according to court documents.

The CLS employee’s supervisors admitted that he responded late, according to court documents.

Thompson argued that PECO was liable because a representative went to the site the day the accident occurred, spoke with the head of the project, inspected the trench, and should have known the worksite had not been marked and shut it down, according to the plaintiff’s settlement conference memo.

PECO denied that any of its staff members were at the site prior to the accident or that they knew that the contractor had started digging before he was supposed to, according to court documents.

Thompson also contended that the underground power line at the project should have been marked by 4 p.m. the day of the accident and wasn’t and that PECO should not have “recklessly allowed” CLS to operate on a 24-hour working day, according to the memo.

But PECO said the user’s guide was not distributed until after the accident and that the guide was not law but a guide, according to court documents. It said its contract with CLS conformed to the statutory definition of a working day.

Thompson said CLS was liable because it hadn’t marked the location of the underground power line by 4 p.m. the day of the accident and operated on the 24-hour working day, according to the memo.

Thompson also said PA One Call was liable because it accepted the partially incorrect address information from White and sent it to PECO and CLS.

PA One Call denied liability, saying that the call to its service was not made by the contractor, as required by law, but a plumber, and that it did what it was required to do by law – taking the pertinent information and giving the plumber a “dig date,” which was two days after the contractor started digging on the day of the accident, according to court documents.

Glenn M. Campbell of Post & Schell, who represented White, the plumber, did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Experts for Thompson’s lawyers had estimated his future medical and nursing costs at $960,000, according to court documents. Thompson, who was 38 at the time of the accident, was burned over 55 percent of his body and has scarring on his lower neck, chest, back, shoulders to his wrists, parts of his legs, and buttocks, according to court documents.

He is unable to stand for more than 15 minutes and must keep his scarring out of the sun. He also takes medication for chronic pain, according to court documents.

Thompson was asking for $11.75 million for pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of life’s pleasures, embarrassment, and humiliation, and past and future medical expenses.

“There are thousands of digs into electrical wires every year in Pennsylvania,” Mongeluzzi said. “This was foreseeable.”

The two workers who were electrocuted were contractor George Hardy and Walter Crawley. Hardy was represented by Stephen Ernst of Segal Wolf Berk Gaines & Liss and Crawley was represented by Thomas Muldoon of M. Mark Mendel Law Offices.

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