“Power Line Suits Could be Tried Together”, Birmingham News (10/17/01)
Power Line Suits Could be Tried Together
By Chanda Temple
News staff writer
A Jefferson County circuit judge is considering whether the same jury will hear separate lawsuits involving an electrical accident that killed one Mountain Brook boy and injured another.
Lawyers for both families, who are suing Alabama Power Co. over the August incident, on Tuesday, asked Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker to try the case together to decrease paperwork, reduce expenses, and to receive consistent rulings. Both suits have near-identical claims and allegations.
However, Alabama Power lawyer Teresa Minor argued that it’s too early to decide whether to try the cases together.
Boohaker on Tuesday consolidated pretrial proceedings in both cases, but has yet to rule on whether the cases will be tried simultaneously.
William Ward Webb, 4, and Zachary Thomas Downard, 7, were playing in a partially dry creek bed in the 3500 block of Spring Valley Court when they touched a live Alabama Power wire Aug. 16. The 7,200-volt line killed Zachary instantly. William was badly injured.
The line, which was about three inches above the creek, was tugged down by a fallen tree.
The Webb family’s lawsuit said the power company was negligent. The Downard family has filed a wrongful death suit. Court records show that Alabama Power has denied liability.
Currently, the Webb case is before Boohaker and the Downard case is before Circuit Judge Jack Carl. If Boohaker consolidates the cases for trial, he could hear both.
Boohaker, however, set next Aug. 19 as the trial date for the Webb case. If he agrees to try the cases together, the Downard case will also be tried then.
Downard lawyer David Marsh said outside court that the area where the boys played had been frequented by children for years. He said the creek runs parallel to residents’ backyards and there are well-worn trails in the area.
“It’s a stone’s throw from these children’s homes. You can see homes, playgrounds, swing sets” along the creek, Marsh said. “It is where you would expect little boys to be.”
Ms. Minor declined to comment.
Webb lawyer David Cromwell Johnson said late Tuesday that 4-year-old William has had five surgeries since the accident, including the amputation of his feet and skin grafts.
The boy, who suffered burns all over his body, is currently at Children’s Hospital recovering from an operation where doctors closed a hole in his head.