Jury awards $9 million in wrongful death of a Hartsville man, Darlington County’s largest award on record
A Darlington County jury returned a verdict of $9 million on June 6 after finding Progress Energy responsible in the wrongful death of 21-year-old Allen Toney. The jury awarded Mary Washington, the victim’s mother, $3.5 million in actual damages and $5.5 million in punitive damages. This verdict represents the largest award in Darlington County history, according to Theresa Timmons of the Darlington County Clerk of Court’s office.
J Edward Bell, III and C. Carter Elliott, Jr. of the Bell Legal Group and Edward E. Saleeby, Jr. and James C. Cox, Jr. of Saleeby and Cox represented the family of Allen Toney in their case against Progress Energy, a Fortune 500 power company, which was found responsible for the 2003 death of the young man. Mr. Toney, a resident of Hartsville, S.C., died as the result of being electrocuted by a downed power line. Mr. Bell and Mr. Elliott concurred that the death of Mr. Toney was reckless, negligent and completely avoidable, claims that were substantiated by the jury award.
According to testimony, on May 2, 2003, a storm in the Hartsville area caused a utility pole, owned and maintained by Progress Energy, to fail. The pole, located between 529 and 531 Ross Drive, fell at approximately 6:30 p.m., leaving a live power line carrying 13,200 volts hanging chest high across the driveway of 529 Ross Drive. According to witnesses, at around 9:20 p.m. Mr. Toney arrived at the home located at 529 Ross Drive where he came into contact with the energized power line.
Further testimony revealed that Mr. Toney appeared to be locked to the power line “while balls of fire pulsed down the wire from the transformer and into his body.” The line melted, leaving Mr. Toney face down in the driveway. EMS was dispatched and arrived on the scene shortly after the incident and transported Mr. Toney to the Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center.
Testimony from EMS workers and hospital personnel revealed that while Mr. Toney sustained catastrophic burn and electrical injuries, he initially responded to treatment, and was, in fact, responsive to questions asked by medical staff. While arrangements were being made to transport Mr. Toney to the Augusta Burn Center, he passed away at approximately 11:15 p.m. due to cardiac arrhythmia due to complications of the burn and electrical injuries.
Mr. Elliott and Mr. Bell presented evidence that Progress Energy was negligent in responding to numerous inspection notifications of the hazardous condition of the utility pole in the months prior to the incident.
They also presented evidence that Progress Energy was negligent in responding to numerous phone calls made to the Progress Energy Call Center prior to the electrocution incident. Those calls provided notification and warning to Progress Energy about the downed power line situation and the dangerous conditions present. Based on the verdict, the jury found that Progress Energy was grossly negligent and that their negligence caused the tragic death of Mr. Toney.
Mr. Bell and Mr. Elliott asked the jury in their closing arguments to fight for Mr. Toney and to send a message to Progress Energy that this type of reckless conduct would not be tolerated. The jury deliberated for less than 24 hours before returning the largest award ever to be handed down in Darlington County District Court.