Court Upholds Part of Verdict Against FPL in Death

Posted By: Garnie Holmes Industry,

An appeals court Friday upheld a $12.5 million jury verdict in a Lee County teen’s electrocution death ---- but overturned part of the decision that would have required Florida Power & Light to pay an additional $15 million in punitive damages.

The ruling by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal stemmed from a December 2011 incident in which 15-year-old Justin Dominguez was climbing a tall stalk of bamboo that bent into a power line. He was electrocuted and eventually died.

The teen’s mother, Tricia Dominguez, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against FPL, which was responsible for the power line. She alleged that the utility had failed to follow its maintenance and safety standards when it did not remove the bamboo as part of clearing vegetation. A Lee County jury awarded $12.5 million in non-economic damages --- often described as damages for pain and suffering --- and another $15 million in punitive damages, the appeals court ruling said. While Friday’s ruling did not address the issue, news reports at the time of the 2017 verdict said FPL would have to pay $8.75 million of the non-economic damages because the teen was found 30 percent at fault. FPL appealed the verdict, with the panel issuing a seven-page ruling that upheld the award of non-economic damages but tossed out the punitive damages.

The ruling focused heavily on whether punitive damages were warranted and allegations of negligence against Barry Grubb, FPL’s head of vegetation management in the region where the accident happened. The appeals court said, in part, Dominguez’s attorneys did not prove “willful and malicious action” by Grubb that would meet legal standards of punitive damages. “At trial, Grubb was identified as the FPL employee with the most knowledge about this program,” said the ruling, written by Chief Judge Nelly Khouzam and joined by judges Matthew Lucas and Andrea Teves Smith. “However, he testified that he was only in charge of the program for a limited geographical area. He also testified that he has a manager and that he does not make policy decisions relating to the program. While his position certainly comes with significant managerial power, we hold that Grubb does not qualify as a managing agent of FPL.”

Article reposted with permission from The News Service of Florida.