A lineman for Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy will collect $40 million from Qwest Telephone as a result of a 2004 accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Andrew Blood was halfway up a Qwest-owned pole he was preparing to remove from a railroad right-of-way in Colorado when it snapped off below ground because it had rotted. The pole fell on Blood, causing his injuries.
Xcel and Qwest jointly share utility poles in some areas.
An investigation revealed that Qwest had no inspection plan in place for its poles. The company could produce no record of the pole having ever been inspected in the 46 years before the accident.
A jury awarded Blood $9.9 million in economic damages and $11.75 million for physical impairment, disfigurement and other damages. It added on $18 million in exemplary damages.
Qwest challenged the exemplary damage award on appeal and lost. The company then appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which in May also refused to overturn or reduce the award.
Note: This case illustrates the importance of having a comprehensive safety plan. Virtually everything a company owns is subject to the elements and wear and tear.
Examine industry benchmarks to determine the best maintenance and inspection practices, as well as the useful life of equipment and materials. You can probably avoid punitive and exemplary damages if you can show you have implemented safety and maintenance programs consistent with industry standards.