$4 million award against SC Edison when "stray electrical current" forces plaintiff from her home. Los Angeles County.

Summary

Woman says utility company failed to tell her the electrical history of her house, which the utility had once owned; she claims "stray electrical charges" forced her to abandon the home and caused her physical and emotional injury.  

The Case

  • Case Name: Simona Wilson v. Southern California Edison Company
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court - Torrance/ YC 065545
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Sunday, March 17, 2013
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, September 15, 2011
  • Type of Action: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligence
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Stuart M. Rice
  • Plaintiffs:
    Simona Wilson, 31
  • Defendants:
    Southern California Edison
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $4,050,000
  • Economic Damages:

    None.

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $1,050,000

  • Punitive Damages:

    $3,000,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 8 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days
  • Jury Polls: Nuisance: 12-0; Negligence: 10-2; Punitive damages: 9-3.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:
    Grassini & Wrinkle by Lars C. Johnson and Brian Hong, Woodland Hills.
  • Attorney for the Defendant:
    Lim Ruger & Kim LLP by Christopher Kim and Arnold Barba, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Defendant's Medical Experts:
    Stephen Waxman, M.D., Ph.D., neurology, West Haven, CT
    Said Beydoun, M.D., neurology (treating physician), Los Angeles
  • Plaintiff's Technical Experts:
    Douglas N. Bennett, P.E., electrical engineering, Long Beach
  • Defendant's Technical Experts:
    John D. Loud, P.E., electrical engineering, Menlo Park

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff and her three young children lived in a single family house on Knob Hill Avenue in Redondo Beach.  The house was located adjacent to a Southern California Edison (SCE) power substation. Plaintiff claimed that she felt electrical current coming from her shower head. Plaintiff confronted her utility company — Southern California Edison — about the problem, and was told that the issue was due to neutral to earth voltage ("stray electrical currents") running through her property, and that this condition might explain why there was electricity on her bathroom water lines.

    Plaintiff eventually left the home after an independent home inspector told her to "get out" immediately. Plaintiff ultimately lost the home to foreclosure. (Plaintiff was approximately $168,000 under water on her mortgage when she moved out, per defense counsel.)

    Plaintiff eventually hired a lawyer and went to the media to bring attention to the problem. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and nuisance. She sought both compensatory and punitive damages.

    In the course of discovery, plaintiff learned that the home was once owned by SCE; that SCE rented the home to tenants for many years before selling the home in 1999; that
    prior tenants and prior owners had complained about getting shocked in the home on several occasions dating back to the early 1980s; and that SCE once considered demolishing the home and keeping the property as a "buffer" between the neighborhood and the Edison Substation next door. Edison never
    disclosed this history when it sold the home (to a prior owner) and never told Ms. Wilson about the extent of prior complaints.

    Per defense counsel, Edison did not disclose the shock history when selling the home in 1999 as the company thought the problem had been fixed. Edison had provided a homeowner previous to plaintiff with a written letter confirming the remediation work Edison performed following a complaint about shocks in 2004 and that there was no safety hazard from stray voltage. There were no more complaints of shocks from stray voltage until March 1, 2011, after plaintiff remodeled her bathroom. At that time, Edison explained the 2004 remediation work to plaintiff.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff complained for nusiance, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Southern California Edison denied liability, arguing that it always responded to complaints in the past and thought the problem was resolved. Edison also denied it breached any applicable standard of care, and denied that the plaintiff suffered any injuries, or that low-voltage electricity could have caused any of the symptoms alleged by plaintiff.

     

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Plaintiff was initially diagnosed with nerve damage, which her doctors later theorized may have developed into a secondary condition called Erythromalalgia or EM. EM can cause pain, tingling and discoloration in the hands and feet. There is no known cure. At the time of trial, however, plaintiff's doctors were not able to say that plaintiff suffered an electrical injury. Medical tests conducted by her doctors were all negative, and the doctors remain uncertain of what is causing her current symptoms.

    Plaintiff also claimed emotional distress and anxiety.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $1,000,000
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $100,000 per plaintiff counsel.
  • Defendant Offer during Trial: $1 million per plaintiff counsel (see notes below).

Additional Notes

Settlement offer notes:

Per plaintiff's counsel, at two mediation sessions Edison made no offers. On the first day of trial, Edison offered Ms. Wilson $100,000 to settle the case. That offer was rejected. During trial, Edison offered $1 million contingent on confidentiality. That too was rejected.

This information is incorrect per defense counsel who states that plaintiff served Edison with a Statement of Damages claiming she had suffered damages in the amount of $100,000,000 (one-hundred million dollars).

During trial:

Per plaintiff's counsel, Edison called a world-renowned neurological specialist in the field of Erythromalalgia (EM): Doctor Steven Waxman of Yale Medical School, who testified plaintiff does not have EM, and that she suffered no medical injury as a result of her exposure to electricity. Edison also called John Loud, an electrical engineer with Exponent (formerly Failure Analysis). Loud testified that stray voltage is a common phenomenon, associated with most modern electrical distribution systems, and that Edison's system was typical. As for injuries, Loud conducted a demonstration in the courtroom, which involved him putting electrical current through his body. Mr. Loud showed the jury the muscles in his arm contracting at voltage levels similar to those found at the home, and argued there was "no harm" from that current. Loud testified that electrical current is often used in the medical field for rehabilitation and other treatment purposes. Loud said this is not a safety issue, but a mere "customer service" issue.

Per defense counsel, Edison called plaintiff's treating specialist, neurologist Said Beydoun, M.D., who testified that plaintiff does not have any nerve injuries and does not have secondary EM. Expert neurologist Dr. Waxman testified that there was no evidence to support a conclusion that low voltage electricity caused plaintiff's symptoms.

Defense counsel points out that plaintiff called no medical experts and did not call the independent home inspector who told her to "get out" to testify.

 

Disclaimer

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