Disabled teen’s family settles power line suit for $60M

Mark Gillispie
Associated Press

Cleveland — The family of a teenage girl disabled for life after touching a downed power line has reached a $60 million lawsuit settlement with two companies responsible for repairing the line that fell during the remnants of Superstorm Sandy.

Gasia Thomas, who is now 16, suffered a severe brain injury when she touched the line on Nov. 1, 2012, as she and a younger sister walked to school in Cleveland, according to court documents. Gasia will require round-the-clock care the rest of her life, according to a court document. The younger sister received minor injuries.

The settlement was first reported Friday by WOIO-TV in Cleveland.

Settlement documents filed in Cuyahoga County Probate Court detail missteps by the companies and a Cleveland police officer that led to Gasia’s disabling injuries. A judge must approve the settlement. Her family previously settled a claim against the city for $700,000 over a police officer’s failure to stand guard near the line and warn people away.

Gasia wasn’t breathing when an emergency medical crew arrived, and she had to be resuscitated.

An attorney for Cleveland Electric Illuminating and First Energy Service declined to comment Friday. Michael Becker, an attorney for the family, also declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement in the settlement.

The Probate Court documents include allegations about missed opportunities by the companies to have the line repaired. Cleveland Electric Illuminating runs the northeast Ohio power system and is responsible for repairing downed lines. First Energy Service, like CEI, is a subsidiary of Akron-based First Energy and was responsible for relaying emergency calls to CEI about damaged and fallen power lines.

According to settlement documents, CEI attorneys argued that the company wasn’t able to fix the line before Gasia was hurt because crews were busy elsewhere. Family attorneys found that a crew had been working for several hours a few blocks away before Gasia was hurt and could have made the repair in a matter of minutes.

The company attorneys initially said First Energy Service had properly processed all the calls about downed line. Attorneys for the family discovered that a call from a police dispatcher about the downed line was mishandled and never forwarded to CEI. Attorneys also learned that an AT&T employee who had once worked for CEI as a “hazard responder” twice called First Energy Service about the downed line more than 24 hours before Gasia was injured and that two other calls weren’t treated as emergencies.

WOIO-TV has reported that the police officer was suspended for 20 days for not standing guard over the line because he thought it was harmless.

The settlement calls for Gasia to receive $34 million. Court documents said the expected cost for care during her lifetime will be $23 million. Her mother, Glinda Thomas, will receive $4 million, with the balance going to the family attorneys for fees and expenses.