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Jury Increases Award of Compensation for Falling in a Hole Left by a Utility Company

A New Jersey jury has increased an award of compensation for falling in a hole left by a utility company after an arbitrated settlement was appealed.

In April 2012, the Jersey Central Power & Light Company (JCP&L) removed a broken pole from outside the Barnegat Township property owned by Nancy Jacobs. The removal of the pole left a four-inch by six-inch hole by the bottom of Nancy´s driveway that the utility company highlighted with iridescent paint and placed a warning cone over.

Over the next two months, grass grew around the hole – obscuring the painted area – and the warning cone vanished. Nancy´s partner considered the open hole to be a hazard, and he wrote to JCP&L complaining about the condition of the hole. The utility company did not reply or take any action to isolate or fill the hazard.

On June 18th 2012, Nancy was walking down the driveway outside her home, when she was diverted from the driveway by an operating sprinkler system. As she approached the curb, her right foot went into the hole – causing her to fall backwards in a twisting motion that resulted in a torn meniscus cartilage in her knee and the aggravation of an existing back condition.

After seeking legal advice, Nancy claimed compensation for falling in a hole left by a utility company. JCP&L denied liability and argued that – within the scope and extent of industry maintenance standards – the company had acted reasonable. Mandated arbitration led to Nancy being awarded $400,000 compensation for falling in a hole left by a utility company.

JCP&L appealed the arbitrated settlement and the case was heard by a jury at Ocean County Superior Court before Judge James Den Uyl. The jury determined that the value of Nancy´s claim was $650,000, but attributed her 20% comparative negligence as she had known for two months that the hole existed. Consequently Nancy will receive $520,000 compensation for falling in a hole left by a utility company.