Exposed Live Wire Severely Shocked Technician: $10 Million Verdict

A jury in Jackson County has awarded close to $10 million to a man and his wife after a he was severely shocked while servicing a hospital’s commercial grade heat pump.

Donald Chapman, a 33-year-old HVAC technician, climbed a 6-foot ladder to service a hospital’s commercial grade heat pump, which was about 10 feet above ground in a recessed ceiling. As he reached up to detach refrigeration gauges from the unit, his right arm contacted an electrical panel on the pump containing live wiring. He received a 460-volt shock and was thrown from the ladder, landing on the corner of a table and then fell to the floor.

Chapman’s injuries included multiple rib fractures and a ruptured spleen with hemorrhaging, as well as other internal bleeding, and pulmonary and pancreatic contusions.  Chapman underwent emergency surgery to remove his spleen and was placed on life support for several weeks while his condition remained critical. As he was recuperating, he suffered many infections, including a staphylococcus infection, and underwent an additional six surgeries to treat the infections. The incident also left him with chronic, severe neck pain, for which he requires narcotic pain medication. His medical bills totaled about $424,800.

At 37-years-old, Mr. Chapman is permanently disabled.

He and his wife sued FHP Manufacturing Co., which manufactured the heat pump, alleging it was defectively designed since it lacked a cover over the live electrical wiring in the panel.  The plaintiff’s evidence that the pump’s previous design included a steel cover over the live electrical components until the company changed that design in 2004, eliminating the cover due to financial concerns based on the rising cost of steel. They also allege that FHP Manufacturing failed to warn of the danger posed by the exposed electrical components.

Nine jurors assigned 40 percent of the fault for the accident to Mr. Chapman and held FHP Manufacturing 60 percent at fault. In addition to the damage that the jury found that Mr. Chapman and his wife, Tammy suffered, $4.5 million in punitive damages were also awarded. The total verdict in this case was $9.97 million.

In its statement for the media, FHP Manufacturing said the heat pump “was in fact sound, and had Mr. Chapman followed accepted service procedures relating to the heat pump, this situation would not have happened.” They argued that Chapman was an experienced technician who understood the dangers of working with live equipment and was negligent for working on the pump while it was connected to the building’s power supply.

If the manufacturer of this heat pump never changed the design in 2004, this accident may never have happened?  When the company changed their design, eliminating the steel covers in order to save money, do you think they should have posted a warning about the potential danger of the exposed electrical wires?

Feel free to comment on this blog post. Contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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