Jury awards record $109M to family of electrocuted Hempfield woman

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PITTSBURGH —

An Allegheny County jury Thursday awarded $109 million, including $61 million in punitive damages,  to the family of a Hempfield Township woman who was electrocuted by a downed West Penn Power Co. line.

Judge Michael A. Della Vecchia said the award is the largest in Allegheny County history and probably in western Pennsylvania history.

Jurors heard attorney Shanin Specter’s closing statements on Thursday morning on behalf of Michael Goretzka, Carrie Goretzka’s husband; their two young daughter’s, Chloe, 8, and Carlie, 6; and Michael’s mother, Joann, who saw the 7,200-volt line fall onto the victim.

Carrie Goretzka died in UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh of burn injuries three days after the 2009 accident.

The attorney for the family argued West Penn Power Co. failed to properly train workers for years before her June 2009 death, even after Goretzka's husband told the utility he was concerned for his family's well-being.

Goretzka died three days after the power line fell on her in the backyard of the family's Irwin home while her daughters, ages 8 and 6, and mother-in-law looked on. The Goretzkas had wires fall in their yard twice previously.

A company email from 2004 blamed poor preparation of the wires and improper splicing.

On Wednesday, the attorney for West Penn Power pleaded with the jury to focus on scientific evidence rather than emotion when determining its verdict in the death of the 39-year-old.

Avrum Levicoff of Pittsburgh, who represents the utility company in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Goretzkas, told jurors during his closing argument that evidence presented during the trial does not prove that negligence by West Penn Power Co. or its employees caused the June 2, 2009, accident outside the victim’s West Hempfield Drive residence.

Levicoff said he didn't know if the company would appeal Thursday's verdict.