Dakota Watkins, a 24-year-old man from Tunkhannock, was recently working at a property on Harvey's Lake to correct an electrical failure on a boathouse near some boat lifts. Watkins was unexpectedly shocked by a large electrical surge that caused him to lose consciousness and he fell into the lake where he drowned.
Watkins' estate has since brought a claim for wrongful death against the property owners who include Tamara Simpson and Jeffrey and Scott Welch. The claim alleges that the owners of the property were aware of the extremely hazardous condition that existed due to some wiring problems, yet did not properly warn him of this danger. Emergency responders retrieved Watkins' body from the water and OSHA has been involved in an investigation.
The details of the claim indicate that prior to the incident the owners had hired LHC Construction Management to conduct some significant renovations to the lake house and dock area. LHC apparently added a new electrical hub to the property, but they informed the owners that the wiring was improperly configured, which created a potentially dangerous condition. Later, Watkins was hired to work on the project and was not made aware of the electrical concerns. The suit also contends that no permit was obtained for the electrical project and it was not properly inspected by an officer as required. They did secure permits for zoning and building; however, the building permit had expired.
Harvey's Lake located in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania measures one-square mile and extends to depths slightly over 100 feet. It is the largest natural lake in the state. Since the 1800s, approximately 56 individuals are known to have drowned in the lake. OSHA has initiated their preliminary investigation and says that Watkins was attempting to repair the electrical problem. OSHA found that in addition to needing proper permits, that there is miscellaneous electric equipment that remains that is potentially hazardous. The Chief of Police, Charles Musial, found the scene rather “disturbing” and hopes that the man's family will pursue justice through civil action. Musial also confirmed that the electrical system was improperly configured.
In Pennsylvania, there are no caps for economic or non-economic damages in claims of wrongful death; however, those brought against the state (governmental entities) are capped at $250,000 per incident or an aggregate of $1,000,000. In the rare cases where punitive damages are awarded, they generally do not exceed $100,000 or 200% of the compensatory damages. The statute of limitations for bringing an action is two years, which accrues no later than the date of death. A plaintiff may pursue recovery for a variety of damages including the following:
- Medical and dental related expenses (past & future)
- Damage to or loss of property
- Disfigurement, deformity, or disability
- Loss of consortium (marital, partnership etc.)
- Pain, suffering, & emotional distress
- Lost wages or reduced earning potential (past & future)