Car dealer can't blame power company for fire, Justices rule

By Steve Korris | Dec 8, 2011

CHARLESTON – Parkersburg car dealer Kendall Richards can't blame Monongahela Power for a fire that started six days after a dump truck driver accidentally pulled down power lines, the Supreme Court of Appeals decided.

Four Justices on Nov. 28 affirmed Wood Circuit Judge J.D. Beane, who rejected testimony of electrical engineer Charles Pickering as speculation.

"The circuit court found that Dr. Pickering did not examine the power company's distribution system, thus could not form any opinion as to what (if anything) went wrong with the facilities," they wrote in an unsigned opinion.

"The circuit court found that, although Dr. Pickering attributed petitioner's fire to the dump truck incident, Pickering's deposition testimony also established that there are other causes of an over voltage condition," they wrote.

"Pickering could not opine to a reasonable degree of engineering probability that the fault that occurred on the distribution system directly after the dump truck hit the power lines was the cause of the over voltage condition experienced in plaintiff's building," they wrote.

Richards and his company, Kendall Enterprises, operated a used car lot and automobile towing business.

On May 25, 2005, Frederick Weaver drove a dump truck to the lot for his employer, Chore Masters.

Weaver raised the truck bed but didn't lower it before leaving.

The bed snagged the wires and pulled them down, causing power to surge through them.

A control device opened a circuit and cut off power to about 900 customers.

On May 31, 2005, fire destroyed a building on the lot.

In 2006, Richards sued Mon Power and affiliate Allegheny Energy Service. He also sued Weaver and Chore Masters owner James Peters.

He claimed the circuit opened only briefly and reopened, causing a second surge. He claimed the lines exploded and there were blue firewalls. He claimed power arced on the lines for 20 to 30 minutes. He claimed fires damaged structures in the neighborhood on the day of the accident and the next day.

Mon Power answered that a 20 to 30 minute surge would have extensively damaged its distribution system. It argued that Richards was the sole source of information about fireballs and arcing.

Beane granted summary judgment to Mon Power in 2009, finding no evidence that it breached a duty to Richards.

He denied a motion to alter or amend judgment, and Richards appealed.

Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Brent Benjamin, Thomas McHugh, and Menis Ketchum sided with Mon Power. Justice Robin Davis dissented and reserved the right to file an opinion.

John Triplett of Marietta, Ohio, represented Mon Power and Allegheny. James Bradley Jr. of Parkersburg represented Richards and Kendall Enterprises.

The claims against Peters and Weaver remain pending.

More News

The Record Network