Court reverses decision that power company did not owe duty of care to worker who died

By S. Laney Griffo | Feb 22, 2017

HARRISBURG – A Pennsylvania court has reversed the decision of a trial court that found a power company did not owe duty of care to a worker who died.

Tammy Greely, administrix for the estate of Ralph Greely, deceased, appealed the trial court’s decision.

The Superior Court found the trial court had not viewed the evidence in a favorable light for appellant.   Shutterstock

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania found the trial court erred in saying West Penn Power Company did not hold any responsibility for the death of Ralph Greely.

Ralph Greely worked as a telecommunications cable installer for U.S. Utility Contractor Company, which is a subcontractor for Verizon Pennsylvania.

Greely, as a subcontractor for Verizon, was hired by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission for a construction project on State Route 43.

West Penn owned a line of utility poles on which Greely was installing telecommunications cables.

A cable bounced into or near an energized electrical conductor. The electricity traveled from the electrical line to the line Greely was installing. He was electrocuted.

Tammy Greely sued West Penn and Verizon for negligence, claiming: “West Penn was negligent for failing to de-energize the power lines at the work site, failing to insure that the cables would be attached to the pole at sufficient distance from the power lines, failing to provide adequate space on its poles for safe attachment of the Verizon cable, failing to take protective measures, and failing to provide a safe work place for Greely.”

A deposition from West Penn corporate designee, David Hawk, said the poles on which Ralph Greely was working were 400 feet apart on uneven terrain making the conditions unsafe.

Gregory Booth, P.E., authored a report agreeing with the assertion that the conditions were unsafe.

Greely’s co-worker also testified to the unsafe conditions.

It was also shown Verizon did not submit a permit application for the work until Greely’s death.

West Penn filed a motion for summary judgment, saying Greely didn’t have enough evidence to prove negligence.

The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint.

On Feb. 10, 2015, Greely filed a petition for consideration of the decision, and the court denied the petition.

Verizon also filed a motion for summary judgment. Tammy Greely and Verizon settled.

Greely appealed the decision on the West Penn complaint.

In the appeal, Greely listed eight arguments for why the trial court erred in its decision.

According to the Superior Court’s opinion, “Although Appellant asks us to consider eight separate issues, those issues can be condensed into two claims of trial court error: failure to recognize a duty of care owed by West Penn to Greely and failure to view all facts in a light most favorable to Appellant as the non-moving party.”

The Superior Court found that the trial court had in fact erred in its decision because it had not considered some of the expert testimony during the trial, including the report authored by Booth.

According to the opinion, “Not only is this an illustration of the trial court’s failure to consider Appellant’s expert report, it is also a reflection of the trial court’s failure to view the evidence in a light most favorable to Appellant as the non-moving party.”

On Feb. 13, Judge Joseph Seletyn of the Superior Court reversed the the trial court’s decision, remanded the case and relinquished jurisdiction.


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