Date of Settlement:
Court and Case No.:
U.S. District Court, E.D. Pa., 5:13-cv-01145-JLS.
Jeffrey L. Schmehl.
Henry S. Perkin.
Type of Action:
Electric shock; burns.
Thomas More Marrone, Greenblatt Pierce Engle Funt and Flores, Philadelphia.
Annetta Foster Givhan, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Philadelphia.
According to a complaint filed by plaintiff Robert D. Williams Jr., he suffered an electric shock as a result of misconduct by U.S. Mine Safety Health Administration inspectors during a surprise inspection.
The complaint said that on Aug. 23, 2010, inspectors Glenn Geosits and Robert Cook appeared for a surprise inspection at the site where Williams, who was 48 at the time and working as a foreman at a mine owned by Sreebs Slate & Stone Co., was working. Williams asked if the inspection could be put on hold due to rainy weather, the complaint said. According to the complaint, Geosits said the inspection had to be completed by the end of the day because it was a call-in complaint.
During the inspection, Geosits asked Williams to accompany him to a powerhouse that housed fuse boxes, the complaint said. After inspecting the fuse box, the complaint said, Geosits found there was an unplugged knockout hole at the bottom of the fuse box. Geosits then instructed Williams to find a knockout plug and to place it into the empty hole, the complaint said. After finding a metal knockout plug, Williams attempted to place a plug in the hole, but was unable due to a “kink” at the hole, according to the complaint.
The complaint said Geosits then told Williams to get a hammer and pliers, and after Williams retrieved the tools, Geosits then manipulated a plug and gave it back to Williams with the instruction to plug it into the empty knockout hole.
Williams then attempted to insert the plug into the hole in the fuse box, the complaint said. At that point, a short occurred, which caused the fuse box door to open with a burst of light and the sound of electric arcing, according to the complaint.
Williams contended in his complaint that he was thrown 15 feet across the room, and that he suffered serve electrical burns as a result of the incident.
Williams sued Geosits, Cook and the U.S. government, alleging negligent conduct.
Williams contended that the inspectors were aware that the power had not been cut to the powerhouse and that the fuse box was fully energized. Williams further noted that he was not an electrician and he had been soaking wet due to being in the rain. Williams further contended that it was negligent to instruct him to install a plug that had been manipulated with pliers when the power had not been shut off.
The U.S. government, in its answer to the complaint, denied any misconduct, and said that, although it was raining, the rainfall was not heavy. It further contended that Williams was comparatively negligent, and that the injuries were due to Williams’ own negligence. Government lawyers additionally argued that Geosits and Cook were not proper defendants in the case.
According to Williams’ complaint, Williams suffered second-degree burns over 11 percent of his body, including burns to his face, neck, hands and arms. The complaint said the injuries required multiple surgeries and extensive follow-up care and rehabilitation. The complaint also said Williams will require a future surgery.
The complaint further said the shock resulted in permanent scars and disfigurement, and rendered Williams permanently disabled. The complaint also alleged that Williams incurred $260,000 in medical expenses.
The case was dismissed against Geosits and Cook, and the federal government agreed to settle the case for $820,000.
Attorney Thomas More Marrone, who represented Williams, said that, in addition to the settlement, the Mine Safety Health Administration has mandated that inspectors are no longer allowed to instruct workers during inspections.
“It is a testament to Mr. Williams’ credibility that the United States settled this case after taking his deposition and looking at the damages and medical expert reports, without seeing a single liability report, or having to submit a single witness to deposition on liability,” Marrone said. “I’m very pleased for Mr. Williams.”
Patricia Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, declined to comment on the settlement.