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HAMILTON v. UNITED STATES

July 5, 1956

Robert E. HAMILTON, Administrator of the Estate of James Lewis Hamilton, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Defendant and Third-Party Plaintiff, Matthew Leivo & Sons, Inc., Third-Party Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILLER

This is a proceeding brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1346, 2671-2680. The plaintiff's decedent was fatally electrocuted on August 30, 1949, while employed by the third-party defendant, then engaged in the performance of a contract with the United States to place the Keystone Ordnance Works near Geneva, Pennsylvania, in a stand-by condition. The complaint of the plaintiff administrator sets forth causes Death and Survival statutes. 12 P.S. Death and Survival statutes. 12 P.S. §§ 1601-1604; 20 P.S. § 320.601 et seq.

Findings of Fact

 1. On August 30, 1949, the United States of America was the owner of the Keystone Ordnance Works, an installation near Geneva, Pennsylvania, comprising about 14,500 acres of land and various buildings and equipment, including certain electrical transformers and oil circuit breakers. The Keystone Works had been used by the government during World War II for the manufacture of TNT.

 2. On May 6, 1949, the United States entered into a cost-plus contract with Matthew Leivo & Sons, Inc., (Leivo) whereby the latter was to place the Keystone Works in stand-by, or 'mothball', condition. The contract provided for, among other things, the decontamination of plant facilities, limited repairing, prevention of deterioration and preservation of the plant and machinery and the making of an inventory of all production equipment, including the transformers and oil circuit breakers.

 3. The contract and accompanying specifications placed chief responsibility for the safety of workmen on Leivo. Specific accident prevention requirements were spelled out and the contractor was required to make daily inspections of the job to see that these requirements and any others made necessary by special circumstances were observed. The contract did not mention any particular precautions which were to be observed with respect to electrical equipment.

 4. Under the contract and specifications, the government was obligated to furnish existing utilities, which included electricity, at the site and it did so.

 5. The government employed various electricians and maintenance men in connection with furnishing electricity at the site. Leivo also had a staff of electricians in its employ on the project, about 17 inventory personnel and a number of other workers.

 6. At the time of the accident, two groups of oil circuit breakers, designated as locaitons G-16 and G-17, were being used by the government for transmitting electrical power to various buildings on the premises. G-16 was located about 500 feet west of a power station and G-17, about 500 feet east of the station.

 7. At G-16, there was a large structural framework on which oil circuit breakers and transformers were installed. The circuit breakers, a group of eight, were suspended on the framework off, but near, the ground, so that serial numbers and catalogue information could be read from them by one in a standing position on the ground. At the center of the area, there were a number of poles on which were installed at a height of about 15 or 18 feet a group of small electrical transformers which were to be included in the inventory of plant equipment. The serial numbers of these transformers could not be read from the ground.

 8. Location G-16 differed from G-17 in that G-17 was surrounded by a fence having a gate which was locked and on which there was a large sign warning that the circuit breakers therein were charged with electricity. There had previously been a fence around location G-16, but it had fallen away some years before the accident. No warning sign was placed on the circuit breakers at G-16 and the closest sign present on the day of the accident was some 125 to 200 feet away at a control station west of the power house.

 10. Sometime between 1946 and 1948, the War Assets Administration had refused permission for the requisition of materials to construct a fence around location G-16.

 11. Prior to the occurrence of the accident, Preston, facilities manager of the defendant, issued oral instructions to the superintendent and safety director of Leivo that workmen of the latter should not go near electrical installations or transformer stations unless accompanied by a government electrician.

 12. Leivo issued instructions to its employees through its superintendent, safety engineer and various supervisors including Harold G. Shutts that personnel should not enter any installation or station having wires without first contacting an electrician employed by the government or by the company. Constant warnings on general safety and ...


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