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COOPER v. HEINTZ MANUFACTURING COMPANY (05/21/56)

May 21, 1956

COOPER
v.
HEINTZ MANUFACTURING COMPANY, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 113, Jan. T., 1956, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas No. 7 of Philadelphia County, Dec. T., 1952, No. 8452, in case of Edward Cooper v. Heintz Manufacturing Company, Baton Construction Corporation, S. A. Lindstrom, Inc., and Harry F. Ortlip Company. Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL

Lynn L. Detweiler, with him Swartz, Campbell & Henry, for appellant.

S. Walter Foulkrod, Jr., with him John H. Hines, John J. McDevitt, 3rd, Howard R. Detweiler and Ambler, Detweiler & Walsh, for appellee.

Before Stern, C.j., Jones, Bell, Chidsey, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.

Author: Musmanno

[ 385 Pa. Page 298]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

This case has to do with the mysterious element of electricity which, although invisible to the eye, wields a force capable of illuminating the world, propelling machines of fabulous complexity, transporting incalculable weights, and destroying or crippling life. The defendant Heintz Manufacturing Company employed electricity as motive power in its large plant in Philadelphia, maintaining and operating in this connection six transformers which were installed in a structure attached to the south side of one of its buildings here called Building No. 42. In order to protect workmen and others on the property from the dangerous properties of the transformers, the ominous mechanism was shut off from the rest of the plant by a brick wall on the north side and, on the east, west and south sides, by a heavy metal screening surmounted by a solid corrugated material known as transite. Copper tubes named "bus bars" carried electric current to the tune of 13,200 volts from the transformers to the factory buildings. Uninsulated, these tubes offered catastrophe to human contact. The transformer room, on stilt-like columns, stood 20 feet 4 inches above the ground and measured 25 by 20 feet with a ceiling 14 feet high. The bus bars ran parallel to and 42 inches below the ceiling.

Some time prior to September 28, 1953, the date of the tragic episode which is the subject of this lawsuit, the Heintz Manufacturing Company engaged the Baton Construction Company to erect a building (to be known as Building No. 41) to adjoin and connect with (on the south side) Building No. 42. When completed, Building No. 41 would enclose and engulf the transformer tower. On September 19, 1953, the electricity in the transformer room was turned off in order to permit the attachment of the steel of the new building to the metal skeleton of the old structure. The screening

[ 385 Pa. Page 299]

    and transite partition was removed from the south side of the transformer room. During the time the electric current was turned off, the transformer tower was as innocuous as an old tree and the absence of the south wall was a matter of total indifference to mankind. However, it was (or should have been) obvious that when the electric current would have been turned on again, this structure, with one side removed, offered a peril as potential as an occupied tiger's cage with one side missing. An appreciation of the most elementary rules of safety, plus a due regard for the priceless value of human life, should have dictated serious concern for the protection of those workmen who would, in the discharge of their duties, come within striking distance of the cobra-dangerous bus bars.

The transformers were reactivated on September 21, 1953, but the screening and transite partition on the south side was not replaced. Several days later (on September 28th), a foreman of the S. A. Lindstrom Company subcontractor engaged by Baton Construction Company to erect iron columns and beams on the building operation), found it necessary to weld to a column known as Column 12 a horizontal beam which, because of faulty manufacture, could not be bolted, as would normally have been done. This foreman, a certain Herbert Cox, ordered Edward Cooper, an employee of Lindstrom's and later to be the plaintiff in this litigation, to handle the welding job. Cooper, a structural iron worker of many years' experience, surveyed the scene and concluded that he could best accomplish the welding of the beam to the column by working from a "platform sling," a scaffold which would be suspended by means of four ropes wrapped around the upright column and attached to an overhead crossbeam.

[ 385 Pa. Page 300]

Cooper climbed to the roof of the transformer room to get his bearings, explaining: "I had to change my scaffold to get in the proper position for welding on this point here (indicating), and I had to find out where I could change the lead of my rope; in other words, the two ropes, if you pull on one rope on one corner, it will away your platform ... where you can work conveniently." Having resolved on the plan he would follow in completing the task ahead of him, Cooper proceeded to side down Column 12 to the place where he could begin his operation. As he side past a point beneath the transformer room roof, disaster hit him. Although no part of his body touched the lurking bus bars, the 13,200-voltaged electric current leaped or arced from the copper tubing, enveloping his left shoulder in flames, striking him unconscious in the instant, and felling him to the concrete floor beneath. The resulting injuries from the heavy blow of the electricity and the impact with the cement pavement have permanently paralyzed him from the shoulders downwards. The gravity of Cooper's disability is evident from the jury's ensuing verdict of $112,000, the amount of which no one has questioned.

When Cooper sued the Heintz Manufacturing Company in trespass, Heintz brought in as additional defendants the Baton Construction Company, and the Lindstrom Company already described, as well as the Ortlip Company which had originally installed the transformers. The jury returned a verdict against all defendants. Upon the filing of motions for judgment n.o.v. by the respective defendants, the lower court exonerated Ortlip, but held Heintz, Baton and Lindstrom all guilty of negligence. In entering judgment the Court said: ...


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