The families of two young Susquehanna County men, electrocuted while installing a new roof on a house, will receive nearly $30-million as a result of an out of court settlement, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Thomas A Bush, 32, of South Montrose and Kirk L. Zurn, 35, of Kingsley were killed while they were replacing a roof on the home of Bush’s parents in Forest Lake Township.
Both were teachers and athletic coaches in Susquehanna at the time and were well known personalities.
They were moving an aluminum ladder during the construction project when it came into contact with a 7,200 volt power line which was positioned only seven and half feet from the home.
The power line was owned and maintained by the Claverack Rural Electric Co-Operation, Incorporated.
Attorney Joseph A.Quinn Jr. of the Wilkes-Barre law firm of Hourigan Kluger Spohrer & Quinn, was retained by the widows of the two men to initiate legal action in a wrongful death suit against the power company.
Initially filed in Luzerne County court due to the fact that Claverack did business in a section of Luzerne County the cause was transferred to Susquehanna county and, ultimately, Wyoming County Judge Brendan Vanston was specially assigned to preside at a jury trial.
An interesting aside to the case two of the jurors in the case were, in fact, members of the Claverack Electric Co-Operative, the defendant.
The jury trial, conducted last May, was limited to establishing claims of liability. Having established that claim, the case was due to proceed to a second case, this time to establish the amount of damages owed by the defendant.
However, an out of court settlement was reached between the parties, thus negating the need for a second trial.
The structured settlement involves the immediate payment of $4 million in cash to be divided between the widows and two minor sons of each man and then a schedule of payment to be issued periodically over the terms of their lives which will amount to approximately $30-million.
It was the contention of the plaintiff that the location of a uninsulated, high voltage, electrical transmission line only a little more than seven feet from a residential dwelling, constituted negligence on the part of the defendant.
The plaintiff demonstrated through complex exhibition of models that the line in question could have been safely located else where, to minimize human contact and injury.
Attorney Quinn argued to the jury that the close proximity of the wire to the Bush home was an unreasonable hazard.
A human factors’ expert, testifying on behalf of the plaintiff’s, said studies showed that 87 percent of people interviewed believe that high voltage are insulted in a way as to preclude accidental electrocution in the event of contact while grounded . However, Attorney Quinn showed that belief is faulty.
At the time of his death, Bush was guidance coordinator and placement director of the Susquehanna County Area Vocational Technical School. Holder of masters degree in counseling and administration, it was argued that the man was grooming to be superintendent of the school district where he was employed which was Elk Lake School District. He was employed as head softball coach, assistant soccer coach, and junior varsity wrestling coach.
Zurn held a masters degree in mathematics and was a math teacher at Elk Lake district were he was also employed as varsity wrestling coach, varsity track coach and varsity soccer coach.
Attorney Quinn was assisted at trial by partner Attorney Anthony Falvello and Attorney Eugene Speerazza, litigation assistant Richard Shemo.
Quinn has developed a reputation as a personal injury lawyer in Pennsylvania as a result of a series of multi-million dollar jury verdicts as well out of court settlements.
He is past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice and a present member of Board of Governors in the American Trial Lawyers Association. He was one of only twenty-eight Pennsylvania lawyers listed for inclusion in the weekly guide entitled, “The Best Lawyers In America.”
He is a frequent lecturer at trial seminars in this and other states for trial lawyers and judges.
SUNDAY INDEPENDENT – WILKES-BARRE, PA
By FRED NEY