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Shanin Specter: Allegheny County jury awards record $109 million to family of electrocuted Hempfield woman

By Paul Peirce


Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012, 4:16 p.m.

An Allegheny County jury Thursday afternoon awarded $109 million, including $61
million in punitive damages, in the death of a Hempfield woman who was
electrocuted by a downed West Penn Power Co. line in 2009.

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

The jury deliberated only 90 minutes before returning the verdict despite
mountains of evidence during the two-week trial, including multiple pieces of
the downed wire and utility company logs, books and interoffice memos.

During their deliberations, jurors asked only to see three photographs taken
during Carrie Goretzka’s autopsy.

Juror Tina Wojton of Pittsburgh said, “There was a lot of evidence to review
during the trial, but once we got back there, we spent a lot of time talking and
laying out the evidence.

“It was nice to know that everyone was pretty much in agreement,” she said.

Wojton said the jurors hope the $61 million in punitive damages sends a message
to utility companies to be more careful.

“None of us ever want to see something terrible like this ever happen again,”
she said.

Michael Goretzka hugged his attorney, Shanin Specter of Philadelphia, and wiped
tears from his eyes as the verdict and penalty damages were read.

Michael Goretzka and his mother, Joann, embraced and shook hands with each juror
as the panel left the courtroom.

Specter said the size of the verdict should send a message to utility companies
across the state that they should be more careful in safeguarding the public.

“It’s terrible that we can’t bring back Carrie, but this jury honored her
memory” with the verdict, he said.

Jurors heard attorney Shanin Specter’s closing statements on Thursday morning on
behalf of Michael Goretzka, Carrie’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 accident.

Jurors began deliberations Thursday afternoon. The family had sought unspecified
damages against the utility.

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 Carrie Goretzka, 39.

Avrum Levicoff of Pittsburgh, who represents the utility company in a wrongful
death lawsuit filed by the Goretzka’s heirs, 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.

Joann Goretzka, 69, “We’re excited, we’re overwhelmed, and that’s about all I
can say right now,”

Carol Rizzo, Michael Goretzka’s sister, who helps to take care of the two
Goretka daughters, said. “We were just hoping that they would do the right thing
so that this will never, ever happen again. It won’t bring back Chloe and
Carlie’s mother, but we don’t want to ever see anybody ever have to go through
what our family has gone through.”

Michael Goretzka declined comment as he left the courthouse with his attorney.
West Penn attorney Avrum XX declined comment and would not say whether the
company would file an appeal.

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