A jury in Allegheny County sent a clear message to West Penn Power Company today by awarding an Irwin man and his family 109 million dollars, including 61 million in punitive damages. On a clear June afternoon Carrie Goretzka was inside her home with her mother-in-law and two young daughters when she looked outside and noticed that her trees were on fire. She immediatley went outside with her cell phone to call 911 and waited in her side yard when an electrified line fell on her. Mrs. Goretzka immediatly caught on fire. When her mother-in-law tried to help her, she was also got burned. It took the power company 20 minutes to arrive at the scene to shut the power off, while family and neighbors stood helpless watching her burn.
The burns covered 80 percent of Mrs. Goretzka's body and she passed away three days later.
It was argued that the line fell because it was improperly installed by the West Penn Power Company employees and that the same line had fallen twice before. The splices of the wires were supposed to be wire brushed to remove oxidation before being installed according to manufacturer's instructions. It was shown that the power company employees regularly forgot to splice the lines.
Currently in Allegheny County, this case is the largest personal injury verdict that has been awarded.