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Nearly $40 million won by paraplegic vs. Qwest
By James Paton
Rocky Mountain News
Friday, May 25, 2007

A jury has ruled against Qwest and awarded nearly $40 million to Andy Blood, 27, a Henderson man who was paralyzed after a telephone pole he was working on collapsed in 2004.  Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs responded with a prepared statement:  "The circumstances are tragic and our sympathies are with Mr. Blood.  However, we do plan on appealing the verdict."

Blood sued Qwest, claiming the Denver company was to blame because it had failed to repair the rotting pole near the corner of West 58th Avenue and Pecos Street in Adams County.

"Hopefully, this means a better life," Blood said in a telephone interview after the verdict was reached Thursday afternoon.  "This sends a clear message to Qwest that they need to inspect their poles and do what they promised."

Blood was an apprentice lineman for Xcel Energy, but the pole was owned by Qwest, his lawyer, William Keating, said.  The companies have agreements to use each other's poles, Keating said.

When the 800-pound piece of pine broke apart, Blood fell 25 feet to the ground, suffering permanent spinal cord injuries.

Keating said he believed the jury's decision was easily one of the largest injury verdicts for a single person in Colorado's history.  He said the two sides had attempted to settle the case to avoid a trial but were unable to reach an agreement.

The deteriorated part of the pole was hidden beneath the ground and wasn't visible to Blood, the lawsuit claimed.  Qwest later filed its own lawsuit, claiming Xcel was responsible.  But the jury ultimately ruled only against Qwest.

"It's the kind of thing that's supposed to be found in routine inspections," Keating said.  "This pole had been put in place in 1958 but had never been inspected."

Keating said Qwest and other companies have failed to repair and maintain tens of thousands of utility poles scattered across the state.

"There may be a lot more of them out there in bad condition," he said.

Blood said he was an avid rock climber, boxer and weight lifter before the incident.  Since the June 2004 fall, his wife, Carrie Blood, has taken care of him at their Henderson home.  An annual golf tournament organized by Xcel employees has raised money to help them pay the bills, he said.

"They've been amazing," Blood said.

This year, proceeds from the golf outing will go to a fund to assist other injured Xcel workers, according to Blood, now a paraplegic.

Blood said he knows a lot of people who climb poles for a living.

"They do the best they can to protect themselves," he said, "so I want to ensure (that) the big companies are doing their jobs."

The jury in Denver District Court awarded $21.5 million in compensatory damages and $18 million more in punitive damages.

After an eight-day trial, the jury came back after less than a day of deliberation.  Blood, sitting in his wheelchair, anxiously awaited the outcome.

"I could hear my heart pounding, pulsing faster and faster, and I tried keeping calm, but when they started reading the verdict I was in a state of shock," he said.  "It's justice."

patonj@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-2544

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/other_business/article/0,2777,DRMN_23916_5554491,00.html