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Injured electrician wins $82,000 verdict

A federal court jury has awarded more than $82,000 to an electrician injured in a Rockville electrical explosion, even though the jurors found his own negligence had contributed to the incident and his injuries.

The jurors, in ruling for Lawrence Schoen, concluded that Power Design Inc. had negligently installed the circuit-breaker box that shorted and had the “last clear chance” to prevent the explosion that caused his concussion and head lacerations. But the company did not take that final step, Schoen’s attorney said.

Under Maryland law, a defendant is absolved of any liability if the plaintiff’s negligence contributed at all to his or her injury. A plaintiff, however, may still recover damages if the defendant had the last chance, “a fresh opportunity … to avoid injury to the plaintiff and failed to do so,” according to the jury instructions in the case.

The incident occurred Oct. 25, 2006, as Schoen inspected electrical equipment that Power Design had installed at 110 N. Washington St. in the Rockville Town Square.

The visual inspection, designed to ensure sufficient power was being generated, involved removing the sheet-metal cover on the circuit breakers in the commercial building.

The explosion, which happened while Schoen was replacing the cover, threw him across the room, according to his lawsuit. Schoen, a private electrician, landed on his back, suffering a concussion, lacerations and damage to his teeth, the lawsuit stated.

Power Design, which denied the allegation, argued that Schoen contributed to his injury by negligently failing to turn off the building’s power before conducting the inspection. But Schoen’s attorney, Karl J. Protil Jr., countered that a Power Design employee who attended the inspection should have told the electrician to cut the electricity.

“That was their last clear chance” to prevent the explosion, said Protil, of Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker PA in Potomac.

Protil said Power Design made no settlement offer in the case.

“They thought they had it on contrib,” he added, referring to what he called the company’s belief that its contributory negligence defense would succeed.

Attorney Mark I. Cantor, who represented Power Design at trial, declined to comment on the case. Cantor is with the Law Offices of Joseph M. Jagielski in Baltimore.

Schoen sued Power Design in Montgomery County Circuit Court, alleging the company was negligent in failing to remove conductive contamination, such as metal filings, that was lodged behind the circuit-breaker terminals and contributed to the explosion. Power Design also failed to provide adequate insulation between the circuit-breaker frame and support bracket, which would have prevented the explosion, Schoen alleged.

Power Design successfully moved to have the case transferred to U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. The transfer was based on the diversity of citizenship between Schoen, a Maryland resident, and Florida-based Power Design and on the amount in controversy being more than $75,000. Schoen had sued for $500,000.

Power Design argued that even if it was negligent, it should not be held liable because Schoen was either contributorily negligent or had assumed the risk of injury.

The jury rejected the assumption of risk defense and awarded Schoen $82,006.21. The award included $40,000 for pain and suffering, $22,814.21 for past medical expenses, $13,000 for future medical expenses and $6,192 for loss of earnings.

LAWRENCE SCHOEN V. POWER DESIGN INC.

Court:

U.S. District Court, Greenbelt

Case No.:

8:09-cv-03134-AW

Judge:

Alexander Williams Jr.

Outcome:

Plaintiff verdict

Dates:

Event: Oct. 25, 2006

Suit filed: Oct. 19, 2009

Trial: April 5-April 7, 2011

Verdict: April 7, 2011

Plaintiff’s Attorney:

Karl J. Protil Jr. of Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker PA in Potomac

Defendant’s Attorney:

Mark I. Cantor of Law Offices of Joseph M. Jagielski in Baltimore

Counts:

Negligence