Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Volunteer dismissed from suit alleging teenager electrocuted from defective outlet

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Mar 7, 2018

A volunteer with a non-profit group who allegedly did some electrical work in a Troy home has been dismissed from a suit alleging a 19-year-old was electrocuted when he attempted to plug in a vacuum pump, causing him to suffer fatal injuries.

The parties filed an agreed stipulation for dismissal without prejudice for defendant Derek Bernett on March 1 with each side bearing their own costs.

Bernett, who was represented by James Craney and Joshua Edelson of Craney Law Group in Edwardsville, previously sought dismissal from the complaint based on the Volunteer Protection Act.


The defendant argued that he is immune from liability as an uncompensated volunteer on behalf of defendants Liberty Worship Center and/or Rebuilding Together Southwest Illinois, which are both non-profit organizations.

“The VPA provides that no volunteer will be liable for harm caused by an act or omission when acting on behalf of the nonprofit entity, except when the volunteer fails to meet certain conditions of the act,” the motion stated. “[T]hese exceptions are inapplicable in this case.”

“No matter which tax-exempt organization Bernett volunteered on behalf of, he is immune from liability since the Complaint neither alleges that he was compensated for his services and/or acted outside the scope of his responsibilities,” it continues.

Doug Elliott and Dawn Elliott, as independent co-administrators of the estate of Caleb Elliott, filed the complaint on Nov. 30 against Viola Sexton, Linda Johnson, Rebuilding Together Southwest Illinois, Liberty Worship Center, The Boeing Company, Employees Community Fund of Boeing St. Louis, Bernett and J/B Industries Inc.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege home electrical and outlet maintenance was performed in 2014 at Sexton and Johnson’s Troy home by the defendant non-profit groups.

Then on Aug. 11, 2017, Caleb Elliott, 19, went to the home as an employee of Viviano Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. His duties required him to use and plug a J/B Industries Inc. vacuum pump DV-85-N into an outlet. After Caleb Elliott plugged the vacuum pump into the outlet and began operating the pump, he was electrocuted. He died as a result of his injuries the same day.

The plaintiffs allege the defendants failed to properly wire, connect or install the electrical outlets; failed to inspect the electrical outlets; failed to inform and warn the decedent that the outlets were improperly wired or installed; failed to maintain the property in a manner that is in compliance with local and state ordinances; failed to maintain the outlets; failed to install a ground fault circuit interrupter; allowed the outlets to be installed with a false ground or reverse polarity; and failed to protect the entire branch circuit with a ground fault circuit interrupter.

The plaintiffs are represented by Robert Marcus of Kujawski Marcus LLC in O’Fallon.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 17-L-1625

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