Housing Authority To Pay Mother Of Hurt Boy $200,000

Suit Against Bg& E In Transformer Accident Unaffected

October 28, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

The mother of an 8-year-old boy who lost his right arm in an electrical transformer accident at a public housing complex has won a $200,000 settlement against the Annapolis Housing Authority, the maximum allowed by state law.

Juanita Johns' lawyer, Alan H. Legum, confirmed yesterday that Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Martin Wolffapproved Thursday the settlement agreed to by Legum and lawyers for the Housing Authority. The case against the other defendant in the $25 million lawsuit, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., is still pending, Legum said.

Johns' son, Terrence Tolbert, suffered third-degree burns over much of his body and lost his right arm in the April 23 accident at theRobinwood community on Tyler Avenue. He was injured when he crawled into a 13,000-volt transformer box while trying to retrieve a stick.

"We're satisfied they did get the maximum" settlement, Housing Authority Executive Director Harold Greene said yesterday. "Our concern was for the boy and his family."

Under state law, government agencies are liable for up to $200,000 in any civil action. But that ceiling does not apply to BG & E.

In filing the suit in June, Legum argued that the accident was caused by "gross, wanton and reckless" negligence due to a broken lock and latch on the transformer box.

Legum argued that neither the authority nor the utility had done anythingto repair the transformer box since 1980, when three children were burned in a similar accident. He represented the mother of a 10-year-old hurt in that accident and won a $30,000 judgment.

Greene said the settlement should not be viewed as the authority's admitting responsibility for the accident. "We took every precaution to secure thoseboxes," he said.

Authority officials said shortly after the Aprilaccident that vandals had broken the transformer lock at Robinwood. BG & E spokesman Art Slusark said yesterday that the utility maintains that it isnot responsible for the transformers, as they are owned by the Housing Authority.

During the summer, the authority had BG &E install new locks inside all 42 transformer boxes in the city's 10public housing communities as an added safeguard. The boxes also arepadlocked from the outside. At residents' insistence, the authority also put up a fence around the Robinwood transformer, where the accident occurred.

Johns could not be reached for comment. Legum said that Terrence is "making good progress" in his recovery and has returned to class at an Annapolis elementary school. After undergoing weeksof treatment at Children's Hospital National Medical Center in Washington, the boy was fitted with an artificial arm at Shriners Hospitalin Philadelphia. Terrence still takes physical therapy at the Washington hospital once a week and visits Shriners once a month to continue learning how to use the artificial limb.

A hearing in the case against the utility was held Thursday before Judge Chester Goudy, who did not rule on BG & E's motion to dismiss the case, Slusark said. Instead, Goudy gave both sides 45 more days to prepare their cases.

Legum said he would be conducting more interviews with employees of both the Housing Authority and the utility.

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