A team of South Carolina lawyers won a $35.9 million jury verdict in Maryland for a 27-year-old man zapped with a bolt of electricity and paralyzed while working at an electrical substation.
The verdict, believed to be the largest in the history of Montgomery County, was reduced to $21.7 million because of Maryland’s $770,000 cap on non-economic damages, which had accounted for $15 million of the verdict.
The plaintiff, Hugo Hernandez-Palomino, was part of a six-man subcontractor crew that was sent to erect scaffolding at a Potomac Electric Power Company substation in May 2013. Pepco is one of the largest power companies in the Mid-Atlantic.
A senior technician told the crew that the transformers at the job site had been de-energized, according to Palomino’s attorneys, William Applegate, David Yarborough and David Lail of Yarborough Applegate in Charleston.
But when Palomino climbed onto a section of scaffolding he was hit in the torso with an electrical arc from a nearby transformer and knocked to the ground. He neck was broken, and the shock severely burned 10 percent of his body.
Palomino is now a quadriplegic and will need around-the-clock medical care for the rest of this life, according to a report from Yarborough Applegate. During trial, Pepco attempted to reduce its liability by recommending that Palomino get the “cheapest level of care possible,” Yarborough Applegate stated in the report.
According to the firm, Pepco also contended that Palomino would only live to be 54, while a plaintiff’s expert said he could expect to survive to the age of 79.
Yarborough said Pepco admitted liability “because we had them dead to rights, but then they still refused to accept responsibility for the harm they caused.”
“Pepco has disingenuously stated publicly that they have always planned to fairly compensate [Palomino], yet in court they have aggressively defended and litigated this case for the past 18 months,” he added.
An attorney for Pepco, Jason Waters of Wilson Elser in Washington, referred comment to Pepco spokesman Sean Kelly. He noted in a written statement that the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not cite Pepco for any safety violations in connection with Palomino’s injuries.
“We deeply regret the accident and injuries Mr. Hernandez-Palomino suffered while working for a subcontractor on Pepco property,” Kelly added. “Unfortunately, we could not reach an agreement with Mr. Hernandez-Palomino’s attorneys regarding fair and adequate compensation which meant the only remedy was to allow a jury to decide.”
Pepco had offered to settle the case for $13.75 million before the verdict, rejecting Palomino’s demand for $15.5 million, according to Yarborough Applegate.
Applegate said Palomino’s medical bills would consume the entire jury award, assuming that the verdict stands.
He said the case “provides the perfect example of the injustice of tort reform and exemplifies why the one-size-fits-all approach that has been taken by the legislature does not properly protect our community.”
Follow Phillip Bantz on Twitter @SCLWBantz
WORKPLACE INJURY – NEGLIGENCE
Case name: Palomino v. Potomac Electric Power Company
Court: Montgomery County Circuit Court, Maryland
Date of verdict: Oct. 22
Amount: $35,940,545, later reduced to $21,710,545
Attorneys for plaintiff: William Applegate, David Yarborough and David Lail of Yarborough Applegate, Charleston; and Justin Brown and Robert Jenner of Janet Jenner Suggs, Baltimore
Attorneys for defendant: William Gandy and Jason Waters of Wilson Elser, Washington