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Memos in civil trial reveal husband's concern over West Penn power line

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Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

Five years before Michael J. Goretzka's wife was electrocuted in 2009 by a West Penn Power Co. line that fell in her Hempfield yard, he repeatedly questioned the utility about the line's safety after the same wire failed twice in two years.

Daniel W. Romano, who works in West Penn's claims department, testified Monday before an Allegheny County jury about numerous company memorandums generated when Goretzka repeatedly contacted the utility via telephone calls and emails in the summer of 2004.

He was seeking an explanation about the same line failing in 2003 and again in 2004.

His wife, Carrie Goretzka, 39, of 23 West Hempfield Drive, died after she was severely burned when a 7,200-volt line fell onto her in her yard on June 2, 2009. Her family is seeking unspecified damages from West Penn.

After the line fell on June 23, 2004, Romano said, the claims department initially refused to pay for damage to a tree and burns on the lawn of the Goretzka property.

After the July 15, 2004, rejection, Michael Goretzka contacted West Penn to find out why the line failed and to point out it previously failed on Jan. 3, 2003.

Family attorney Shanin Specter of Philadelphia displayed for jurors the company memos, relaying Goretzka's concerns, on an overhead projector.

“(Michael Goretzka) is also upset that this is the second time the line came down and he is concerned for his family's well-being,” one memo stated.

It noted that Goretzka asked company claim officials to telephone him at work to explain the line failure.

Specter produced subsequent company memos indicating Goretzka never received a follow-up explanation.

He emailed company representatives on July 17, 2004, seeking a reply. The note was passed on by another company employee to the claims department, Romano testified.

“Mike also wanted to know why the line had dropped twice for no reason,” the utility's July 17,2004 email memorandum said.

Goretzka telephoned on July 29, 2004, still seeking an explanation, according to testimony.

“If the company knows why a line fails, does it usually tell a customer?” Specter asked Romano.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Did Mr. Goretzka have a right to be concerned over his family's well-being?” Specter asked.

“Yes,” Romano said.

“Should the company tell a customer why the line failed?” Specter asked.

“Yes,” Romano testified.

“Did the company ever tell Mr. Goretzka why this line failed?” Specter asked.

Romano testified he found no documentation that the company ever explained the failures in 2003 or in 2004.

After the 2009 accident, an investigation into the Jan. 3, 2003 failure indicated it was caused when a tree fell on the line, the witness said.

Under cross-examination by West Penn attorney Avrum Levicoff of Pittsburgh, Romano noted that the utility eventually paid the Goretzkas an unspecified sum for the property damage in the 2004 failure.

Michael Goretzka filed suit against the utility on behalf of himself and his two daughters, Chloe, 8, and Carrie, 6, who watched as their mother was burned by the line.

Michael Goretzka's mother, Joann Goretzka of Elizabeth, is seeking unspecified damages. She testified she was knocked unconscious and burned her hands as she tried to rescue her daughter-in-law.

The trial enters its seventh day today before Judge Michael A. Della Vecchia.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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