Image of a manhole cover
Manhole Cover; image courtesy of photorama,

The family of a woman killed when a valve cover went airborne on Wilson Street in the city of Decatur recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and Decatur Utilities. According to the suit, 59-year-old Karen Jenkins was driving west on Wilson Street Northwest on April 20 around four in the afternoon when the incident occurred. Around the same time, another vehicle driving westbound “drove over the 10.7 pound cast iron lid, which then flew into the air, crashed through Jenkins’ windshield and struck her in the head,” according to a Decatur police report. From there, Jenkins lost consciousness and her car eventually came to a stop against a tree. Shortly after the incident, she was “transported to Huntsville Hospital and died April 27.”

When commenting on the lawsuit, Michael Ermert, the lawyer representing Jenkins’ estate, said:

“It’s our position that utilities have a duty under the law to make sure what they do is safe for the public. When proper installation, maintenance, and inspection protocols aren’t followed, the public can be placed at risk.”

City of Decatur
City of Decatur; image courtesy of
MPearsallArt via Wikimedia Commons,

The lawsuit itself was filed yesterday and argues that a similar incident occurred back in 2015 when a “manhole cover flipped out of a Wilson Street manhole and struck a truck and trailer.” In that incident, Decatur Utilities “received two calls on the same day about the manhole cover…One of the calls reported a truck had hit the cover at Wilson and Newcomb streets and the cover was knocked out of ring about 75 feet back towards Sixth Avenue,” according to a report compiled by Decatur Utilities.

Shortly after the incident involving Jenkins, Decatur Utilities General Manager Ray Hardin issued the following statement on May 9:

“To our knowledge, this type of incident has never occurred in our system, and we consider it to be the rarest of unlikely accidents. DU has over 7,900 water valves in its distribution system. This particular valve’s installation predated any records that DU currently has.”

It turns out, Decatur Utilities “records are archived back to 1949.” Decatur Utilities also issued an email in response to the incident involving Jenkins that read:

“Our initial inspection of the water valve box, that the lid dislodged from, indicated that the asphalt around the water valve box has deteriorated. There are cracks in the asphalt all around the box and the box was wobbly and not as secure as it should be.”

In response to the lawsuit, Decatur Utilities spokesman Joe Holmes said, “On advice of counsel, DU has no comment on this matter which is now in pending litigation.”

As for Jenkins’ family? Ermert said the family is preparing for the upcoming holiday season without her and added:

“This has been a tremendous loss for the Jenkins family. Mrs. Jenkins was well-respected in the community and very much loved by her family and friends. Her husband lost a longtime companion and loving wife. Her children lost a mother that they adored.”


Decatur Utilities sued in wrongful death claim

Decatur Utilities Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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