Could routine maintenance of power structure have prevented electrocution of PA father?

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A 31-year-old Pennsylvania father and teacher was tragically electrocuted in his own backyard in July and now his family is filing a lawsuit. What could have been done to stop it?


I want to first stress that our attorneys do not write about events like this to be exploitative.

The mission of this safety blog is to prevent these electrocutions from occurring as frequently as they do. This blog is the culmination of more than three decades as an electrocution lawyer. I’ve seen over this time an industry that too-often puts profits over people and takes a “scorched earth” legal defense when preventable deaths occur as a result.

This tragic incident is a prime example of the terrible consequences that ensue when power companies turn a blind eye to safety.

And Pennsylvania utility company Met-Ed failed.

Thomas Poynton Jr.’s family is alleging negligence by the power company, including failure to properly install and maintain the hardware that was supposed to keep the power line aloft and not updating equipment to the most recent technology.

The lawsuit seeks money damages to compensate the family and to “punish” Met-Ed to “reform their conduct to ensure safe delivery of electric power to the community,” according to a recent story by, “Pa. teacher’s tragic electrocution death leads to major lawsuit.”

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Poynton was electrocuted after a power line fell in his backyard. He ran into the backyard after one of his dogs and was shocked and killed by the charged ground.

The ground was still live when firefighters arrived and they initially weren’t allowed to step on the ground until Met-Ed shut off the power to the 34,000-volt transmission line that was directly connected to a substation next door to Mr. Poynton’s property, according to the lawsuit. The back of the Poynton house also caught fire.

Our safety mission as electrocution lawyers is also to help educate the public and to inform an industry that often ignores safety so we may prevent these deaths and shock electrical injuries by raising awareness of utility companies’ legal responsibilities to protect to public.

Here’s what we would like you to know from this tragic incident.

Utility companies must maintain power line structures

Pressures on capital budgets — created by the motivation to maximize and public resistance to rate hikes — often causes power companies to extend the usual life expectancy of their structures, sometimes beyond what is safe.

Meanwhile, the power structures continue to age. The Electric Power Research Institute concluded that most large transformers that regulate power transmission were designed for life spans of 40 to 50 years to maximize reliability and efficiency. We’re at the tail end of that lifespan, as the average age of transformers is 42 years old. With loosening screws and wires fraying, like in Mr. Poynton’s case, the public is vulnerable to electrocution and other serious safety issues.

Transformers aren’t the only aging problem. Utility poles and cables are also approaching 40 to 50 years in service. In the Northeast, the average life of a distribution pole is 56 years old. Yet some of these poles are lasting for 85 years or more!

Just because some of these poles can last that long, does not mean it’s safe for power companies to allow them to get that old or to fail to replace them.

Utility companies must inspect power structures

This is the rub: As power lines age and utility companies scrimp on safety all across America, they’re also failing to inspect.

As wooden power poles can even reach age 100, power companies must have regular and  thorough safety inspections of these poles and power lines, in order to protect the public and maintenance workers from hidden dangers, deteriorating and dangerous conditions, or as in this case, from fatal electrocution.

There are several case laws that outline the responsibilities of utility companies to inspect their poles and power lines. Here’s more information on the important legal factors on the timing of inspections.

When utility companies fail to maintain and inspect their power line structures, innocent people pay the price with their lives. There is no such thing as an electrocution “injury.”  Almost all of the cases I have litigated over the past three decades as an electrocution lawyer were, in fact, not an accident at all. They were completely preventable if the companies had just followed their own policies.

Thomas Poynton is survived by his wife, Sarah, and daughter, Anna Jane, who was 20 months old when her father died.

I wish to send our sincere condolences to the Poynton family.

Jeffrey feldman

Jeffrey H. Feldman
Electrocution Lawyer

Jeffrey has tried more electrocution cases than most other injury lawyers in the country. He’s also secured several multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients, many who have lost loved ones in electrocution accidents.

5 stars

He’s an honest lawyer. If he takes on a case, it’s because he truly believes in it.

– L.B.