by Valerie Verkamp
A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Eli's Tree Service alleging the company violated a Missouri law by failing to guard Carlos Enrique Gomez Escobar against high voltage overhead power lines.
Escobar was electrocuted on June 16, 2014 at about 8:52 a.m. by an energized power line in the 6500 block of NW Rock Garden Road in Parkville when he tossed a lanyard in a tree that inadvertently got tangled in a power line.
According to the lawsuit, he immediately began to shake, causing him to fall from the tree. His body was caught by the climbing saddle, where sparks began to erupt into flames.
His body was recovered hanging partially upside down from a smoldering tree about 40 feet in the air. The trunk of the tree was casting fiery sparks near his lifeless body, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, experts say there were 7,600 volts running through the live wire when he was electrocuted. Two additional crew members were present at the job site, but were not injured in the accident.
The suit alleges the company was negligent by failing to evaluate the heightened danger of the high voltage overhead power lines and failing to de-energize the overhead lines.
Under Missouri law no person shall operate or use any device that conducts electricity within 10 feet of any high voltage overhead line without first eliminating any danger by guarding against any contact with the power lines, the suit contends.
The suit alleges the company was negligent for sending Escobar to a worksite without providing necessary protective equipment and proper tree trimming equipment. It further alleges the owner of the tree trimming company, Clinton Eli Whitfield, deployed an agent who was not competent to perform hazardous tree removal.
“Working close to power lines is hazardous and the defendants failed to assess the damages and failed to take any steps to protect persons it dispatched to the job site in order that it could profit from the job,” wrote Attorney John Turner in the petition for damages filed June 8 in Platte County Circuit Court.
The lawsuit also alleges the homeowner, Cynthia Valla, was negligent by failing to take the necessary steps to ensure that electrical wires would not create a hazard or danger for a person performing work with a device that conducts electricity within 10 feet of the high voltage overhead lines.
The suit alleges the homeowner could have known that the high voltage overhead lines were strung alongside the tree and maintains she failed to ensure that the tree trimmers followed Missouri law.
“The defendants were negligent and the negligence of the defendants directly caused or directly contributed to cause the fatal injury to the decedent,” alleges attorney John Turner in the lawsuit.
The legal action was filed by Escobar's family, including his minor children and friend, attorney William Hubbard. They allege even though the company claims Escobar was not an employee, but a contracted worker, the company was at fault for not ensuring a safe working site for their agents.
The alleged wrongdoings are merely allegations and do not prove that any law has been violated.