In November of 2012, Cleveland resident Gasia Thomas (pronounced Jay-zuh), who was 12-years-old at the time, was walking to school with her younger sister when she touched a downed power line that remained on the ground after falling during Superstorm Sandy. As a result, the young girl suffered a severe traumatic brain injury among other serious and permanent damages that will require her to receive 24-hour care for the rest of her life. When first responders arrived on the scene, the child was not breathing and needed to be resuscitated. Though her younger sister was also hurt during the incident, her injuries were said to be minor. It was reported on Friday, September 30, that the girls’ family has reached a proposed settlement of $60 million with Cleveland Electric Illuminating (CEI) and its parent company First Energy, the two companies responsible for failing to repair the damaged power line. According to documents filed in Cuyahoga County Probate Court, both energy providers allegedly made life-threatening mistakes with regard to the downed wire, as well as a Cleveland police officer who failed to stand guard near the line and warn passersby against going near it. The family previously settled a claim against the city due to the officer’s negligence for $700,000. He was suspended for 20 days following the incident, though he claims he did not know the wire posed a dangerous threat to anyone.
Cleveland Electric Illuminating is responsible for running the power company in the area, as well as repairing damage sustained to any of its lines. CEI is a subsidiary of Akron’s First Energy, who is responsible for alerting CEI to emergency situations such as power outages and downed power lines. Though the corporation’s attorneys previously stated CEI did not have adequate time to repair the line prior to Thomas’s accident due to their crews working on repairing issues elsewhere, attorneys for the family argued there was proof a crew had been working for hours just a few blocks away before the child was injured who could have successfully made the necessary repairs within minutes. Documents also indicate the family’s attorneys were able to disprove company claims of having properly processed every call they received about the live wire by producing evidence of a call made by a police dispatcher that was never forwarded to CEI, as well as two calls made by a former employee of the company (who previously worked as a “hazard responder”) more than a day before the young girl was hurt, neither of which were treated as emergencies.
Court records indicate the $60 million will be broken down into several parts, which includes over $34 million for Gasia, now 16-years-old, $400,000 for her sister, $4 million for their mother, $20 million for attorneys’ fees and over $820,000 for medical bills. Though both parties have agreed to and confirmed the settlement amount, it must still be approved by the Cuyahoga County Probate Court. A hearing has been set for sometime next month. Attorneys for both sides have declined to comment on the matter, citing a confidentiality agreement between the parties.