Volume 74, Number 30 | December 01 - 07, 2004

Con Ed settles 11th St. electrocution for $7.2 million

By Hemmy So

Almost a year after East Village resident Jodie Lane’s electrocution on a metal plate on E. 11th St., Con Edison has settled with her family for more than $7.2 million. According to the settlement, Lane’s family will receive about $6.25 million for wrongful death and pain and suffering claims, and Con Edison will provide $1 million for a scholarship fund at Columbia University.

The $1 million Jodie Lane Fund at Columbia’s Teachers College will provide scholarships and money for research in the clinical psychology department, where Lane, 30, was pursuing a doctorate degree. The settlement agreement requires Con Edison to contribute $200,000 annually for five years to the Fund. In addition, the Lane family has decided to use part of its settlement money to create the Jodie S. Lane Public Safety Foundation. Much like the Jodie Lane Project, an East Village community organization, the foundation will strive to enhance public safety in New York.

“The family has selflessly chosen to use their tragedy as an opportunity to improve the safety of the public at large. New York owes them our gratitude,” the Jodie Lane Project said in a statement. “With the establishment of a permanent foundation to oversee the public’s safety, and the cooperation of Con Edison, the sidewalks will be safer for millions of New Yorkers.”

In another interesting aspect to the settlement, Con Edison has agreed to form a panel of three electrical safety experts to periodically review the utility company’s safety performance. The foundation will choose two of the experts and Con Edison will choose the third. The panel will issue reports to the Lane family regarding the utility company’s progress in addressing the reduction of stray voltage on the streets. In addition, the foundation expects to actively comment on Con Ed’s efforts to inspect and detect stray voltage, notify the public of dangerous conditions and train first responders to deal with electrical emergencies.

Pursuant to City Council legislation passed last September, Con Ed is already required to file written reports with the City Council, the Department of Transportation and the New York Public Service Commission regarding annual inspections of its electrical infrastructure. The legislation, spearheaded by Councilmember Margarita Lopez, was prompted by Lane’s death last January.

“Her office is pleased that the Jodie Lane family and Con Edison have been able to settle the lawsuit in a manner that celebrates the life and character of Miss Lane,” said Eric Lugo, chief of staff for Lopez, who was on vacation early this week. “The foundation will be an organization that can work in tandem with our legislation to help ensure that what happened to Jodie Lane does not happen to any other New York City resident.”

Similar state legislation was passed in October, requiring utility companies to report cases of injuries caused by stray voltage within an hour of the incident.

Prior to the city and state legislation, Con Edison had initiated an annual program in January to test stray voltage from company-owned structures and municipal lampposts. The company now plans to implement a research and development program targeting the elimination of injuries by stray voltage.

Stanley Witkow, the Lane family’s attorney, developed the Con Ed plan outlined in the settlement but credits Jodie Lane’s father, Roger Lane, with bringing the plan to reality.

“We are old, old friends. I think I was able to approach the problem with him in a way a regular plaintiffs’ attorney wouldn’t,” Witkow said. “He was consistent throughout this whole thing that he was going to honor Jodie’s memory — the family was going to honor Jodie’s memory in the way they resolved the claim.”

Shortly after Lane’s death, The Villager reported local sources saying that the Lane family planned to sue Con Edison and the New York City Police Department for police officers’ failure to move her off the electrified metal plate.

That the Lane family never filed an actual lawsuit against Con Ed is a point that Witkow highlighted in describing the Lane family’s positive approach to negotiating with the utility giant. Witkow called the settlement a model for plaintiffs and defendants and praised Con Ed as “a company that really stepped forward to do the right thing.”

Nor has the family filed a lawsuit against the Police Department, though its attorneys did file a notice of claim on intent to file a claim — a simple procedural filing used to preserve the family’s right to sue within the time limit set by the statute of limitations, in this case three years after the incident. But Witkow stated that he does not believe his clients intend to sue the N.Y.P.D. After conducting a legal investigation of the tragedy, Witkow said that he is unsure whether the first responders’ inability to handle the situation effectively gave rise to liability.

“The first responders didn’t have the skills to save Jodie’s life,” Witkow said.

The settlement becomes effective upon approval by New York State Surrogate’s Court. The process takes about four to six weeks, so the settlement provisions will likely take effect in the new year. According to Witkow, the $1 million given to the Jodie Lane Fund represents Con Ed’s largest-ever donation to a “charity,” besides the United Way, which is an umbrella organization.

“The men and women of Con Edison deeply regret the tragic death of Jodie S. Lane,” Eugene R. McGrath, Con Ed chairperson and C.E.O., said in a statement released Nov. 23. “This settlement allows us to demonstrate our continuing commitment to making New York a better place.”

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