United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
MICHAEL F. URBANSKI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Harry Workman was injured by an electric shock received while
installing a conveyor system at defendant Axalta Coating
Systems, LLC's ("Axalta") facility in Front
Royal, Virginia on October 21, 2015. Workman contends that he
was shocked because Axalta improperly wired an explosion
proof ("XP") plug to the end of an extension cord
supplied by him to provide power to Workman's stud
welder. While there was little dispute that the electric
shock stemmed from a flaw in the extension cord, Axalta
contests whether Workman proved that the shock stemmed from
faulty wiring of the XP plug as opposed to some unknown
infirmity with the extension cord. After a four-day trial,
dueling experts, and multiple opportunities to hear Workman,
a jury found for Workman and awarded him $473, 295.22 plus
prejudgment interest. J. Civ. Action, ECF No. 60.
matter is before the court on Axalta's Renewed Motion for
Judgment as a Matter of Law and for New Trial, ECF No. 67.
Testing conducted by Axalta immediately after Workman was
shocked revealed an electrical fault in the extension cord,
somewhere between the XP plug wired by Axalta and the rest of
the cord supplied by Workman. Workman's expert electrical
engineer, Charles Martorana, testified that he ruled out
other problems with Workman's extension cord because it
worked without flaw before and after the shock to Workman on
October 21, 2015. Axalta contends that Martorana's
opinion was undermined because Workman could not definitively
establish that the extension cord functioned properly after
the incident. As such, Axalta argues that that the verdict
lacked a legally sufficient basis. Axalta alternatively seeks
a new trial, arguing that the verdict was against the great
weight of the evidence and was based on a flawed jury
the eventual whereabouts of the extension cord were not
established with certainty, the court concludes that, on
balance, Workman presented substantial evidence to support
the jury's verdict that Axalta was responsible for the
electric shock suffered by Workman. Nor is there any basis to
grant the motion for new trial. For the reasons discussed
below, the court will DENY Axalta's motions.
was tasked with working on a metal conveyor system at the
Axalta paint plant. Because his work involved the use of a
stud welder, Axalta required the welder to be connected to a
power source by means of an XP plug. Because of the distance
of the stud welder to the power source, Workman needed to use
an extension cord he brought with him to Axalta. Richard
Bittner, an Axalta electrician, attached the pigtailed wires
on the male end of Workman's extension cord to an XP plug
supplied by Axalta. As such, Axalta's liability turns on
whether Bittner's wiring was done negligently. Bittner
demonstrated for the jury how he wired the XP plug, and
testified that it went "together pretty
effortlessly." Bittner Trial Test, ECF No. 76, at 39.
After the XP plug was attached to a power source, Workman
received an electric shock when he touched his unpowered stud
welder. Workman collapsed and was taken by ambulance to the
the incident, Axalta's David Waddell performed
conductivity testing on the extension cord with the XP plug
attached. This testing revealed conductivity between ground
and hot wires in the extension cord, which was "not the
way it should be." Waddell Trial Test, ECF No 73, at
9-10, 17-20. Axalta employees then tried to remove the XP
plug from the extension cord, but the XP plug would not
unscrew in a normal fashion. Various witnesses testified
that, for an unexplained reason, the XP plug was galled,
requiring its disassembly by two men using channel lock
pliers. Bittner Trial Test, ECF No. 76, at 42-43. The
destructive nature of this process wrenched open the XP plug,
making it impossible to determine the configuration of its
internal wire connections. Waddell Trial Test, ECF No. 73, at
13-14. Significantly, at this point, there was no way to tell
from looking at the disassembled XP plug whether it had been
returned to Axalta the next day, but was too frail to
complete his work. Rather, his associate loaded the stud
welder and other tools on Workman's truck for his return
trip to Illinois. Workman did not inventory his tools when he
left Axalta, and did not look to see whether his extension
cord was returned to its storage compartment on the stud
welder. Upon his return from Axalta, Workman had the stud
welder examined by its manufacturer, Nelson Stud Welding,
Inc., which found no problem with the welder and it integral
the extension cord, although Workman did not see the
extension cord when he left Axalta, he believed that it was
returned to service and functioned without incident. On
direct examination, Workman testified as follows:
Q. After you did give the stud welder back to the folks at
Nelson, did you reunite it to the designated power cord that
had been used before the October 21, 2015 accident?
A. I believe so. The reason I say "I believe so" is
because that would have been out in the shop; and when I
brought the unit back, my partner immediately put the unit
back into service.
Q. Did the extension cord go back in the same bed that it had
previously been stored in on that machine?
A. It would had to have been used. We had to actually use the
Q. Was it actually used by you after October 21, 2015, after
it came back from Nelson?
A. When I was in the shop, yes, I used it.
Q. And did it perform as flawlessly as it had before the
A. We had no problem with it whatsoever.
Q. Since October of 2015, have you used the stud welder with
those same extension cords?
Q. Ever had any problems since the accident?
A. No, sir.
Trial Test, ECF ...