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Carrie Goretzka trial: Family of mother killed after falling power line set her on fire in front of her young daughters wins $109 MILLION payout from utility company
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- Carrie Goretzka, 39, was killed in June 2009 when a power line fell on her
- She caught alight and suffered for 20 minutes with the 7000 volt live wire on top of her body
- Mother-in-law tried to help but was burned
- Husband, Michael Goretzka, had complained twice previously of power lines falling into their backyard but West Pennsylvania Power Co. failed to act
- Lawyer says poorly spliced lines are 'epidemic' problem in the area and warned other families
- Mr Goretzka cried and hugged jurors after the verdict
By Helen Pow
PUBLISHED: 14:29 EST, 7 December 2012 | UPDATED: 15:25 EST, 7 December 2012
The family of a woman killed after she was electrocuted by a falling power line in front of her two young daughters has been awarded $109 million in damages.
After a three week trial, jurors took 90 minutes to find Western Pennsylvania Power Co. negligent in the death of Carrie Goretzka, 39, who caught on fire then suffered for 20 minutes with the 7000 volt live wire on top of her.
The victim's husband, Michael Goretzka, cried as the verdict was read and afterwards hugged and shook hands with each of the jurors, thanking them.
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Negligent: Jurors found Western Pennsylvania Power Co. negligent in the death of Carrie Goretzka, 39, pictured centre with her husband, Michael, and daughters Chloe, left, and Carlie, right
According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mr Goretzka had complained on two separate occasions that power lines had dropped into his backyard, even claiming he feared for his family's safety, before the deadly incident on June 2, 2009.
On that day, Ms Goretzka was inside her Irwin, Allegheny County, home with daughters Chloe and Carlie, then aged four and two respectively, and her mother-in-law when the power went out.
Looking outside, she noticed a number of trees in the yard were on fire and rushed to her car to grab her cell phone.
As Ms Goretzka was standing on the side of the yard calling 911, the energised power line fell on top of her, setting her alight. Her mother-in-law, JoAnn Goretzka, tried to help but was burned.
Backyard: It was the third time a live power line had fallen onto the Goretzka's property, pictured
Shocking: The mother-of-two was struck by the power line and set alight, leaving a sobering mark in the grass, pictured
She then waited for 20 agonising minutes with her granddaughters until emergency crews arrived and shut off the power.
Ms Goretzka had several fingers
severed from her left hand and her left arm was ultimately amputated
before she died of her injuries in hospital three days later.
Shanin Specter, who represented the family, said West Penn was responsible for an 'epidemic' of failures leading to the fallen energised line.
He accused the company of continuously failing to fix the problem by retraining its workers, or disciplining them for sub-standard work.
A company email from 2004 blamed poor preparation of the wires and improper splicing.
The jury of eight women and four men said the hefty award handed to the family was intended to force the company to be accountable for its actions.
'We just wanted to send a message that not applying safe practices across the board is not acceptable,' said jury member Thomas Swogger told The Post-Gazette.
Gracious: Michael Goretzka, pictured, is 'gracious' after the $109 million award
Hugs: Mr Goretzka, pictured, hugs and shook hands with each of the jurors outside the courtroom on Thursday
Mr Swogger said the fact power lines had fallen in the Goretzkas' yard twice previously was a significant issue for the jury.
'As a matter of public safety, the Goretzkas are representative of any one of us. It could have been anyone,' he said.
Another, unnamed juror, told WTAE News: 'Its been a very emotional experience through this whole trial and we just wanted to do right by the family and somehow ease their pain and suffering a little bit.'
West Penn Power said it may appeal Thursday's verdict.
'We'll be reviewing the verdict during the next several days to determine whether an appeal of any or all of the verdict is warranted,' a spokesman told CBS News.
Mr Shecter told the TV station: 'The family was very gratified by the verdict but nothing can bring back Carrie Goretzka she was a beautiful 39-year-old mother, wife and daughter.
Tragic: Ms Goreztka, pictured with her husband and children, was calling 911 when the live wire fell on her
'She suffered for 45 minutes from electrocution, 20 minutes of which the line was live, 7000 volts lying on top of her body.
'That is just unspeakably horrendous, her daughters witnesses this right in front of their eyes, her mother-in-law tried to save her and was herself burned.
'The jury's verdict is an important message to First Energy (the parent company of West Penn Power) that they have to fix their power lines in Western Pennsylvania. They have had a problem, it's really been an epidemic, of falling energized power lines.'
The judgment includes $61 million in punitive damages against West Penn Power.
Judge Michael Della Vecchia said the $109 million judgment is the largest personal injury verdict ever awarded in Allegheny County.