Boy was negligent in climbing power pole, Ameren argues

By Steve Gonzalez | Jun 11, 2007

Injuries sustained by a 13-year-old boy who fell from a power pole after taking a $5 bet from friends were the result of his own negligence, lawyers for Ameren argued in documents filed in federal court June 6.

Justin Porter was shocked by electrical current that came from power and transmission lines owned by Ameren on April 26, 2005. He fell 35 feet from a power pole in Mitchell.

Anna Thebeau, Porter's mother, filed suit against Ameren in Madison County Circuit Court April 12, claiming the utility company was negligent because it failed to warn of the tower's dangers.

Ameren removed the suit to federal court claiming there is diversity in citizenship and also that Thebeau is seeking more than $75,000 in damages. Ameren claims Thebeau demanded $850,000 to settle the case shortly after the suit was filed.

The boy took a bet that he could scale the tower.

Thebeau claims the tower carried a 19,700 volt electric line and that the tower contained no written warning signs alerting her son or others to the presence of high voltage electric lines and the risks of serious injury or death associated with towers of this type.

But Ameren claims Porter assumed the risk of injury when he climbed the tower.

Ameren also claims he was trespassing when he was climbing the tower and therefore owed no duty to him.

Ameren further claims that the power lines were "open and obvious" and constituted an obvious danger so no warnings or other precautions were needed.

Citing the case Booth v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Ameren asks U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert to dismiss Thebeau's suit.

According to Ameren, in Illinois, the general rule is that owners and occupiers of land are under no duty to trespassers to keep their premises in any particular state or condition to promote the safety of trespassers, whether adults or minors.

In Booth, a mentally handicapped 13-year-old came into contact with power lines on the roof of a Goodyear building.

The court held that understanding the risk of power lines is irrelevant and as a matter of law, Plaintiff was deemed to have appreciated the risk coming into contact with the power lines even though he may not understand the danger.

Thebeau claims Ameren was negligent by failing to barricade or fence off the tower to prevent access to the tower, failed to change the design of the tower to make the upper portion inaccessible without a ladder and failed to insulate its power lines.

She also alleges Ameren failed to inspect and maintain the power lines and claims Ameren violated the National Electric Code and the Illinois Administrative Code.

According to Thebeau, Justin suffered second and third degree burns to more than 34 percent of his body, fractured his pelvis and sacrum, lacerated his spleen, sustained a cardiac contusion and other personal injuries to his body as a whole.

She claims Justin suffered mind and body pain, was disfigured, endured psychiatric trauma, lost a normal life and must endure increased risk of future harm.

Thebeau also claims she lost $3,420 in wages so that she could transport Justin to and from medical care and treatment and that there is $239,754 in past medical expenses.

She is represented by Stephen Evans of St. Louis.

Thebeau is seeking a judgment in a "fair and reasonable amount" for nominal damages, actual damages, compensatory damages and consequential damages.

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