Editor’s Choice: Top Five Legal News Stories of the Day

Posted January 18, 2012 in Jury Awards by Martha Burns

Here are a several items we thought you’d find interesting.


  • Electrocution leads to investigation of Pennsylvania power lines.

    In June 2009, a Pennsylvania woman died days after she was struck by a power line that fell into her yard. Carrie Goretzka stepped outside to call 911 about the line and was shocked and burned by a live electrical wire that fell from trees. Rescue workers couldn’t help her until a utility crew came to cut off the power.

    Goretzka’s family filed a lawsuit against the utility company, West Penn Power, and its related companies. It contends the companies are liable for Goretzka’s death because utility workers failed to properly maintain the wires that fell near her home.

    Shanin Specter

    Shanin Specter

    The family’s attorney, Shanin Specter, says the power line failed at a point where it was spliced. He says workers using a splice device should have used a wire brush to clean oxides from the wires. Otherwise overheating will cause the splice to fail.

    According to Specter, several utility workers said in sworn depositions that they were trained to clean the spliced lines with knives or pliers. Specter says that isn’t enough to prevent rust from building up and causing the lines to overheat.

    Specter is now calling on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to investigate how workers were told to clean spliced power lines. He fears the lines were mishandled throughout the Irwin area, a community 25 miles east of Pittsburgh. He says it’s a public safety issue that should be remedied.

    A Commission spokesperson said the matter has been referred to its Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, which can take a statewide look at the problem.

    Contact a personal injury attorney in your area.

  • TurboTax “Free Edition” users say the online tax filing service is anything but free. A class action claims Intuit, Inc. charges illegal fees for the use of its online TurboTax software.

    Hank Bates

    Hank Bates

    Tasha and Fredierick Smith of Arkansas filed the lawsuit against the company in a federal court in California. They say Intuit’s online TurboTax “Free Edition” isn’t really free because it typically costs users about $20 to file state tax returns. The Smiths also claim that because they chose to have the TurboTax preparation fee deducted from their tax refund, they were essentially charged $29.95 for a two-week loan of $86.90. They say that equates to “quadruple-digit interest rates” that violate the federal Truth in Lending Act and California consumer protection laws.

    Attorneys for plaintiffs include Hank Bates of Little Rock, Arkansas and Golomb & Honik of Philadelphia. Learn more about consumer protection lawsuits.

  • Mother sues for daughter’s death in Chicago fire.

    Shantel McCoy was killed in a Chicago high-rise apartment blaze earlier this month. She took an elevator to the 12th floor of her building in the early morning of January 8, not knowing a neighboring apartment was on fire. Officials say that when the elevator door opened, she was hit with a blast of heat up to 1,500 degrees that was enough to kill her in one breath.

    McCoy’s mother,  JoAnn McCoy, is suing the building management for Shantel’s wrongful death. She claims her daughter would have lived if the building had had a sprinkler system installed. She also alleges the building should have had an alarm system that disabled elevators and alerted residents in the case of a fire.

    Fire officials say another factor that could have contributed to McCoy’s death was that the door to the apartment where the fire started was left open. Fleeing residents had propped the door open with a rug because their cat refused to leave. A fire chief said that if the door had been closed, the fire would have been contained in the apartment until firefighters arrived on the scene.

    Learn more about wrongful death lawsuits.

  • Alabama police chief found guilty of drunk driving.

    It took a jury less than an hour to decide the police chief of Tuscumbia, Alabama was guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol. Prosecutor Brandon Hughes said the jury’s verdict sent out an important message – drinking and driving on Alabama’s roadways won’t be tolerated, no matter who you are or what position you hold.

    Police Chief Tony Logan was arrested by Florence Police Officer Charlie Watkins in December 2009. The case was moved to Etowah County for a jury trial as requested by Logan’s attorneys. Tuscumbia Mayor Bill Shoemaker said Logan will continue as police chief while he appeals his case to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

    Read about the DUI trial process. Talk with a DUI attorney.

  • Prayer mural banned from Rhode Island school.

    A large Christian prayer mural that’s been on display for almost 50 years must be removed from a Cranston, Rhode Island, public high school. Federal Judge Ronald Lagueux made that ruling last week after concluding the mural violated the US Constitution, which prohibits the government from promoting religion.

    Despite the mural’s history and tradition, the Judge wrote in his decision that no amount of debate could make it anything other than a Christian prayer. The eight-foot mural is titled “School Prayer,” it calls upon “Our Heavenly Father” to instill students with traits like honesty and sportsmanship, and it ends with the word “Amen.” The Judge reasoned that even though the mural espoused commendable moral traits, calling on God’s intervention as the way to achieve those goals did not show a secular purpose.

    The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist, an avowed atheist who said the mural made her feel ostracized and excluded. The Judge’s decision recognized Ahlquist’s courage to take a brave stand against a hostile community. Ahlquist said she hoped the case would encourage others to stand up for their own rights.

    Read more about religion in public schools.

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