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Wrongful death lawsuit for Duke Energy employee settled

The family of Keith Jester received a nearly $28 million verdict in the lawsuit they filed over Jester’s death while he was climbing a utility pole that collapsed. Jester was a senior lineman and trainer for Duke Energy Ohio.

In 2014, Keith Jester climbed a utility pole with another employee to replace a utility line when the pole splintered and broke underground, falling on top of Jester. WLWT 5 reported that Jester and the other employee were harnessed to the utility pole approximately 22 feet in the air when the pole broke. Jester lived for an hour following the incident before dying of internal injuries.

Jester’s family filed a lawsuit against Utilimap Corporation, a utility wood pole inspection company. Utilimap was hired by Duke Energy to examine 30,000 utility poles in Southwestern Ohio for safety and for the dependability of the electricity system. This inspection process occurred nearly two and a half years before Jester’s death.

During the case, evidence surfaced that the Utilimap inspectors skipped the pole that caused Jester’s death and did not notify Duke Energy that it had not been examined. Furthermore, the company billed Duke Energy for the pole that was not inspected and received payment. Though Utilimap denied fault, the jury found Utilimap 100 percent negligent for their failure to inspect the pole and their failure to alert Duke Energy.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Duke Energy for two violations related to Keith Jester’s death in 2014. The Dayton Daily News reported that OSHA found that Duke Energy “failed to sufficiently determine prior to starting work the condition of the wooden utility pole”. OSHA determined that the pole exhibited signs of rotting. The energy company was also faulted for not training workers to identify potential issues with wooden utility poles. Duke Energy was fined $10,000.

The trial will continue as the jury reviews potential punitive damages.

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