Our Virginia personal injury client was a 33-year-old Coast Guard security officer when he suffered disabling electric shock injuries while standing on a privately owned boat dock. The man was fishing with his roommate when he stretched and touched an improperly grounded electric boat lift.
The surge of electricity damaged his shoulders so badly that he required eight hours of emergency orthopedic surgery to save muscle tissue, tendons and ligaments. Following that surgery, he remained unable to lift either arm for several weeks. He also experienced significant memory problems and had trouble speaking.
Months of intensive therapy and a second shoulder surgery enabled our client to raise both arms to shoulder level but no farther. This physical limitation, lingering neurological problems, recurrent anxiety attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder convinced the Cost Guard to medically discharge the office, thereby ending his promising military career.
By the time the former Coast Guard officer hired our Virginia personal injury law firm, he had accumulated $110,000 in medical bills.
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A Virginia Premises Liability Attorney Discusses Property Owner's Duty of Care
Key Legal Strategy
Recognizing how important it was to secure a just and adequate insurance settlement for the disabled Coast Guard officer, we assigned three personal injury attorneys to this case. One of the first things our team did was hire an electrical engineer to inspect the boat dock and electric boat lifts to discover why their client had suffered such a massive electric shock.
The engineer found out that the lift the man had accident touched was not outfitted with ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). At the time of the accident, Virginia’s statewide building code, following the National Electric Code (NEC) and the Uniform Building Code, required all electrical equipment on boat docks to incorporate GFCIs.
The manufacturer of the boat lift that the injured man had touched recommended retrofitting its older machines with GFCIs, and complying with the NEC requires updating older electrical equipment with GFCIs. The owner of the boat dock did not update the boat lift when he had the lift rewired five years after installing it and five years before the electric shock injury occurred. Nor did the owner obtain a permit for the rewiring. The permitting process would have involved an inspection that ensured the installation of GFCIs.
Failing to comply with the relevant building codes made the boat dock owner liable for the electric shock injury. The common law principle of premises liability gives property owners a high legal duty to protect people from avoidable injuries.
Our attorneys were, however, barred from filing insurance claims against the electrician who performed the unpermitted and incomplete rewiring. Virginia’s statute of repose -- something like a statute of limitations for civil lawsuits -- dictated that the electric shock happened too long after the electrician helped create the shock risk.
The property owner contested both the premises liability insurance claims and a separate personal liability claim. He also stated, against all evidence, that the boat lift did have GFCIs. Our attorneys eventually filed the paperwork to start a civil jury trial, which convinced representatives for the insurance companies to offer an inadequate combined settlement.
Our attorneys offered mediation as an alternative to trial, and the insurers agreed. A full-day mediation session ended with the mediator awarding our Virginia personal injury law firm’s client a total of $525,000. The money represented compensation for his permanent disability, neurological injuries, PTSD and loss of lifetime earnings.
Electric shocks inflict myriad physical and neurological injuries, many of which last a lifetime. The real problem is that most electric shocks can be prevented by following proper building, manufacturing and maintenance practices. As Virginia personal injury lawyers, we are glad we were able to hold the negligent owner of the boat dock and improperly maintained boat lift accountable for permanently disabling our client.
Court: Virginia Circuit Court
Staff: Richard N. Shapiro and two other staff attorneys