State commission, West Penn Power settle Hempfield electrocution case
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Thursday voted to finalize an $86,000 civil settlement with West Penn Power Co. that stems from an investigation into the company's handling of the 2009 electrocution of a Hempfield woman.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve a modified settlement between West Penn and the PUC's independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement that was announced last year.
The commission said it will further examine inspection requirements for automatic splices in utility lines in a separate proceeding that will provide other interested parties the opportunity to file comments.
Part of that process will be determining whether a statewide inspection program for splice connections on lines should be implemented, PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher confirmed on Thursday.
“It's a little preliminary right now, but that's one of the questions being asked. What is the need and how inspections are currently handled will all be reviewed in that separate proceeding,” she said.
West Penn and the PUC bureau have 10 days to agree to the modifications to the settlement, which includes annual refresher training for West Penn employees. The company does not admit any wrongdoing under the settlement.
“If either party does not agree to the modifications, the issue will be referred to the PUC's Office of Administrative Law Judge for hearings,” Kocher said.
The $86,000 fine was announced in February, about two months after a record $109 million jury verdict in Allegheny County in a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of Carrie Goretzka, 39, of West Hempfield Drive.
The utility subsequently dropped an appeal of that verdict and agreed to pay $105 million to the family of Goretzka, who died in 2009 after a power line fell on her.
According to testimony during the four-week trial, Goretzka suffered severe burns over 85 percent of her body on June 2, 2009, when a 7,200-volt power line fell on her when she went outside with her cellphone to alert the utility that power lines were burning in trees in her backyard.
The tragedy occurred on a clear, sunny day and was witnessed by Goretzka's two young daughters, Chloe and Carlie, now 9 and 7, and her mother-in-law, Joann Goretzka of Elizabeth Township.
Shanin Specter, founding partner of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia, who represented the victim's husband, Michael, and family in the 2012 trial in Pittsburgh, said he was pleased with the PUC's action.
“I am heartened that the PUC took strong remedial action in response to our law firm's complaint, which will make the citizens of Southwestern Pennsylvania safer,” Specter said.
Under the agreement, West Penn Power would agree to pay the $86,000 fine to the PUC and drastically alter its maintenance procedures on utility lines.
Under the Commission Order, the company will:
• Pay a civil penalty of $86,000, which it may not recover from ratepayers.
• Modify its training program to ensure that linemen and line supervisors address splice installations and other issues.
• Provide annual refresher training for linemen and supervisors.
• Inspect the automatic splices on its primary distribution system using infrared technology.
• Spot check 5 percent of the installations a year.
• Track automatic splice failures and report the information as part of its annual report to the commission.
West Penn, whose parent company is First Energy, headquartered in Akron, Ohio, released a statement on Thursday.
“First Energy will review the modified settlement and will respond within the 10-day period provided for in that settlement as we look to move forward towards putting this tragic matter behind us,” it said.
The company declined to disclose whether any of the proposed maintenance procedures have already been implemented.
On May 30, 2012, the PUC's investigative bureau filed a formal complaint against West Penn as an outgrowth of the fatal accident.
That complaint alleged the company violated PUC regulations by failing to ensure the integrity of its distribution line, supervise and train employees, and provide information to commission staff as requested.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- 2 suspects charged with second robbery
- Donegal Township families fight driller to get clean water
- Ex-assistant at Penn-Trafford pleads guilty to sending inappropriate texts
- Police: Penn Township man was ‘lonely,’ so he called 911
- Latrobe school directors won’t forgive bill for WCCC land
- Greensburg finalizes deal to provide sign language interpreter for soccer program
- Podlucky mansion in Ligonier Township will go to sheriff’s sale
- A Griffins great: Seton Hill soccer team supports 7-year-old honorary member
- Derry planning commission member joins council
- Police investigate Hempfield fight
- Latrobe Municipal Authority to replace solicitor