Traudt v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 692 A.2d 1326 (D.C. 1997)

David Traudt was hired by Waco, an asbestos abatement company. Waco had a contract with Patomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) to remove asbestos from PEPCO’s electric cables that ran through a manhole system. The contract stated that Waco was an independent contractor of PEPCO.

In the days leading up to the accident, Waco attended a four-day asbestos removal training for the employees who would be working on the PEPCO project, including Traudt. When they began work, a foreman, Ray Fenwick, told Traudt to stick the point of a screwdriver underneath part of the asbestos, and pry it up. A PEPCO inspector tested the manholes for gases, and indicated which cables were to be cleared. Traudt then entered the manhole, removed the asbestos from one wire; on the second wire, he’d pierced the insulation, which contacted a live wire. An explosion followed, resulting in burns over most of Traudt’s body.

Traudt filed a lawsuit against PEPCO, alleging PEPCO breached a statutory duty to provide Traudt with a safe place of employment, to take special precautions against a peculiar risk of harm, and from the employment of Waco, which had been negligent in performing work PEPCO had reason to know was inherently dangerous.

The trial court granted PEPCO’s summary judgment motion, denying each theory on the basis that PEPCO was cleared of liability when they informed Waco that the electric lines would remain energized. On appeal, the court found that Traudt demonstrated triable issues of fact as to whether PEPCO owed Traudt a duty under the common law doctrine of “peculiar risk” and under local requirements to provide employees with a safe place of employment. The trial court decision was reversed.

Louison v. Crockett, 546 A.2d 400 (D.C. 1988)

Charlene Crockett was involved in a car accident in early December 1982. She contacted Dr. Rupert Louison for treatment of her neck injuries. Dr. Louison treated Ms. Crockett with muscle relaxants, and diathermy treatment for her neck and back. On December 21, 1982, Ms. Crockett was coming into Dr. Louison’s office for her third diathermy treatment. An employee of Dr. Louison adjusted the diathermy machine, but did not instruct Ms. Crockett to remover her jewelry or blouse. The assistant set a timer, then left the room.

After a few minutes, Ms. Crockett heard a sizzling noise, which continued to get louder, until she felt what she described as flames to the back of her neck. She put her hand to her head, and beat at the area with her hand, then jumped up, screaming that she was on fire. Dr. Louison rushed in, and said he saw redness on the back of her neck, about the size of a half dollar, that the edges of her hair were singed, and the back of her neck had a first degree burn. Ms. Crockett described the damage as more severe, with a burn to her hand, the left side of her neck, and a patch of hair was burned off.

Dr. Louison sent her home with pain pills, some cream and orange juice. After she drove home, Ms. Crockett decided to go to the hospital, where the emergency room told her that since she was given pain medication, they couldn’t provide any other relief, and to contact her physician. Ms. Crockett had trouble sleeping, and felt her head was burning. Eventually, she went to her family physician, who did not consider the burns dangerous, characterizing them as first or second degree burns. He provided medication.

Over the next few days and weeks, she complained that she was getting worse, had no appetite, and would wake up screaming and crying. The relationship with her husband and two daughters became strained. She ended up going to see a psychiatrist to address problems she’d never experienced before. Ms. Crockett continued seeing her psychiatrist as he helped her progressively recover over the next few years. By the time of trial, her daughter said she had pretty much returned to normal.

At the end of trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Ms. Crockett for $650,000 on the negligence claim. Dr. Louison asked for a judgement nothwithstanding the verdict to either reduce the award, or for a new trial. The trial court denied the motion. Dr. Louison then appealed the case. After review, the D.C. Court of Appeals did not reduce the award, but had the case sent back to the trial level to provide a basis for the award.

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