Mother Brings Wrongful Death Claim for Electrocution of Son

Tina Mays brought a lawsuit against Knight Light, Inc. (“Knight Light”) for the wrongful death of her twenty eight year old son, Gerard “Jerry” Mitchell, who was electrocuted when he came into contact with a 277 volt energized circuit. Jerry was unmarried and had no children. He is survived by his mother Tina, and two sisters. Knight Light hired Jerry as an independent contractor to remove existing electrical ballasts in lighting fixtures on the fourth floor of the Texaco Building, and replace them with new, energy efficient ballasts.

Knight Light did not obtain an electrical permit before doing the the work at the Texaco Building, Knight Light had no written contractual agreement for the job and Knight Light had no inspection reports of the work that was being performed at the Texaco Building. Most importantly, Knight Light did not provide any personal protective equipment (PPE) to Jerry.

Knight Light began its work after 5:30 p.m. so as not to disturb the business tenants. Mr. Reese had a key to the electrical breaker boxes for the lights, but he did not supply such keys to Jerry Mitchell or the other independent contractors.

As is customary in commercial buildings, the Texaco Building had “normal lighting” and “emergency lighting”. “Normal lighting” is controlled by a switch on the wall. Emergency lighting consists of a few light fixtures and “EXIT” signs on each floor and is supplied with power from a different source than the “normal lighting” so that a disruption in the power for the “normal lighting” will not cause the entire floor to be dark.

Jerry Mitchell was not an electrician. Knight Light knew this. Knight Light falsely intimated to Jerry Mitchell that the power to the emergency lighting could not be turned off, and that Jerry would have to work on the emergency lighting “live”. Knight Light considered it an “acceptable risk” to have Jerry Mitchell and the other independent contractors work on the live, energized 277 volt wires. From a legal perspective, this made Jerry’s work inherently dangerous and, therefore, Knight Light legally responsible for Jerry’s death. Huddleston v. Union Rural Electric Association, 841 P.2d 282 (CO 1992).

Knight Light could not escape liability by claiming that Jerry Mitchell’s own negligence caused his death. Even though Knight Light hired Jerry Mitchell as an independent contractor, Knight Light was liable because engaging in an inherently dangerous activity (as this was) brings the action within the exception to the normal rule that an employer of an independent contractor is not liable for injuries resulting from the negligence of the contractor. Huddleston, supra.

The case was ultimately dismissed with prejudice after a settlement was accepted for $175,000.00.

Past results are no guarantee of future results.