Electric Shock Victim Gets $1.57M Verdict
A Cobb County State Court jury delivered a $1.57 million verdict last Tuesday for a construction worker injured on the job by a severe electric shock, then reduced the award by 40 percent apportioned to non-parties to the lawsuit.
The 60 percent of the Oct. 22 verdict apportioned to the defendant, Pioneer Concrete Pumping Service Inc., amounts to $946,091. The jury apportioned 40 percent of the fault to two other construction companies that were not defendants in the case.
“The jury believed Pioneer was responsible,” said plaintiff’s attorney Tarek Abdel-aleem. He was assisted in the two-day trial by Mohamad Ahmad. The two were roommates at the University of California Davis School of Law. Abdel-aleem graduated law school in 2010 and was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia Oct. 30, 2012. Besides his solo plaintiffs practice, Abdel-aleem is general counsel for Confirmatrix Laboratory in Lawrenceville, which provides drug screenings for employers.
Abdel-aleem said his client, Rigoberto Jaramillo Rodriguez, suffered “catastrophic” third-degree electrical burns on his hands, feet and legs.
The accident occurred on April 30, 2009. Rodriguez was holding a hose being used to pump concrete onto a rooftop swimming pool at a Northwest Atlanta condominium construction site. The complaint alleged that a boom on Pioneer’s truck struck an overhead power line while pumping the concrete. The defense disputed that claim, saying that the power arced from the line to the boom.
The jurors didn’t buy the defense’s version, according to the plaintiff’s counsel. “The jury was like two plus two equals four,” said Abdel-aleem.
“We were disappointed,” said defense attorney Michael Rust of Gray, Rust, St. Amand, Moffett & Brieske. The firm was retained by Pioneer’s insurer, Travelers. The client is considering an appeal, Rust said.
The jury included nine women. One was Asian with a Hispanic surname. Two were white. The rest of the jurors were African-American.
One possible point for an appeal would be Cobb County State Court Judge Toby Prodgers’ decision to allow into evidence a report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration that agreed with the plaintiff that the Pioneer truck’s boom hit the power line. “Our driver testified he did not strike the power line,” Rust said. “The driver testified he parked the required safe distance from the line.”
“OSHA is supposed to be there to protect employees from employers and not to establish civil liability,” Rust said.
Another point he’s considering as part of a possible appeal is the showing of a “very graphic” videotape of surgeries using the same artificial skin that was used to treat the plaintiff. The video was produced by a company that makes the artificial skin product. “The wounds were twice the size” of the plaintiff’s injuries, Rust said.
Medical bills totaled $76,819. The verdict included that amount plus $1.5 million in damages.
The plaintiff’s side had two particularly effective witnesses, according to the defense attorney’s assessment. One was the plaintiff himself. “The plaintiff is a very nice guy,” said Rust. “He was not at fault. He was a victim of somebody else’s negligence.”
The other two construction companies at work on the site had already paid worker’s compensation claims, according to the lawyers.
Rodriguez testified in Spanish through an interpreter. It made cross-examining him more challenging, Rust said.
Rust said another strong witness for the plaintiff was his treating physician, Dr. Walter Ingram of Grady Burn Center, who testified to the extent of the injuries, the treatments and surgeries.
Another point of contention in the trial was the level of the plaintiff’s recovery. Abdel-aleem said Rodriguez has permanent nerve damage and asked the jury for a total of $10 million, including $6.5 million for future pain and suffering. On this point, the defense apparently prevailed.
“The evidence was compelling that he made a great recovery from this,” Rust said. “He’s working again. He’s playing soccer. He’s gone on with his life.”
The case is Rodriguez v. Pioneer, No. 2011A-1911-6.