Husband of woman killed by power line says $109M award not the point
By Rich Cholodofsky
Published: Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
The dollar amount was not what mattered most to Michael Goretzka, even as an Allegheny County jury awarded his family a record $109 million verdict against West Penn Power Co. late Thursday.
What mattered was the finding that the utility was negligent in its maintenance of a live power line that fell on and electrocuted his wife, Carrie, in front of her two young children in 2009 outside their Hempfield home.
“I wanted to hear a verdict. I wanted to hear that they were negligent for Carrie, for myself, for my family. This was a fight for Carrie,” Goretzka said on Friday.
After a three week trial, jurors awarded Goretzka $48 million in compensatory damages and $61 million in punitive damages.
Common Pleas Judge Michael A. Della Vecchia said the amount likely is the highest ever awarded in Western Pennsylvania.
Throughout the trial, attorneys attempted to negotiate a settlement. Goretzka said he was not interested.
“We felt we got justice for Carrie. It was a fight for the last 31⁄2 years. She was heard, and the verdict spoke volumes,” Goretzka said.
Goretzka still lives in the same West Hempfield Drive home with his daughters, Chloe, 8, and Carlie, 6, where his 39-year-old wife was engulfed by flames when a 7,200-volt electrical line fell to the ground on June 2, 2009.
Carrie Goretzka died three days later from her injuries. She had been burned on 85 percent of her body.
Michael Goretzka said the family will soon move.
“It's been very difficult. Home has been a reminder of happy times. I couldn't take the kids away from that,” Goretzka said.
During the trial, he had to relive — through his mother's testimony — the horrifying pain suffered by his wife.
Joann Goretzka, 69, of Elizabeth testified that her daughter-in-law went outside to call emergency crews to report a power outage.
Next thing she knew, Carrie Goretzka was on the ground, engulfed in flames.
“I took two steps on the grass, and I was thrown back myself by the electricity,” Joann Goretzka testified. “The next thing I remember is looking back and seeing the two girls had come out on the porch, and they were screaming for someone to help their mother.”
Michael Goretzka, through family attorney Shanin Spector, argued that the power company was negligent in how it maintained the line, which had reportedly fallen twice before: in 2003 and 2008.
Company lawyers and witnesses insisted the evidence showed the power line was properly cared for.
West Penn is mulling its options in the wake of the verdict.
“It's going to take several days to review the verdict to determine if an appeal of any or part of the verdict is warranted,” West Penn spokesman Scott Surgeoner said on Friday.
Meanwhile, the company faces a potential penalty from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
Commission investigators filed a complaint against the power company in May for allegedly failing to maintain an adequate, efficient and safe service.
The commission contends the line failed because the company did not have it properly connected and that its employees were inadequately trained.
Investigators are asking the PUC to impose a minimum fine of $86,000.
“It's working its way through the process,” said PUC spokeswoman Denise McCracken.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg to be featured in TV series
- Tax refund promise led Ligonier Valley High School teacher to second career as corgi breeder
- Delmont man’s next challenge is to compete in swim in chilly Finland river
- Greensburg woman accused of assaulting nurse in Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital
- Scottdale council to meet Monday
- Mt. Pleasant resident voices concerns on council’s appointment
- Jeannette to use grant to secure Monsour
- Latrobe hospital source of fuel spill