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Colorado Supreme Court upholds $18 million judgment against Qwest


The Denver Post

By Howard Pankratz

May 25, 2011


A Denver jury properly awarded $18 million in punitive damages to Xcel transmission lineman Andrew Blood, who sued Qwest after he was paralyzed when a Qwest telephone pole he was on broke from internal rot, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The Supreme Court said Qwest's failure to implement a periodic pole-inspection program during the 46 years prior to Blood's accident was "willful and wanton." It said the failure to implement the program was "sufficiently reprehensible" to justify the award.

The $18 million award was the focus of the court claim. Another $21.6 million was awarded in compensatory damages for a total of $39.6 million.

Mark Molzen, a spokesman for CenturyLink, formerly Qwest, called the accident "tragic" and said the company was reviewing the ruling.

According to testimony, on June 29, 2004, Blood was on the pole taking down wooden cross-arms in an effort to remove the pole. With five minutes of work left, the rotting pole broke 6 inches below the ground, dropping Blood about 25 feet. The fall fractured his spine and immediately paralyzed the then-24-year-old from the waist down.

The Supreme Court said there was extensive evidence that a periodic pole-inspection program would have detected the pole's internal rot.

Under a "joint utility contract," Xcel was allowed to use Qwest's poles.

Qwest said it relied on pre-climb inspections by linemen to detect internal rot. Qwest said it would replace the poles linemen found unsafe.

Prior to climbing the pole, said the opinion, Blood visually inspected the pole and determined it was "well- placed" in the ground. He also struck it numerous times with a heavy hammer to detect internal rot.

He thought the pole was solid enough to climb, a belief shared by other experienced Xcel linemen on the scene, said the high court.

The award is thought to be the largest personal-injury judgment in Colorado. Howard Pankratz, The Denver Post