For the lack of a marker, a life was lost.
For the loss of that life, the local cable operator and
Alabama Power Co. will have to pay a Birmingham-area family a $1 million judgment, as
ordered by a jury. That will compensate them for the death of their 20-year-old son, who
became tangled in a ground-to-pole support wire.
"I think the message is clear: They [power and cable
companies] need to mark guy wires. They're relatively cheap compared with the loss of
human life," said Glenda Cochran, an attorney for Randy D. Coleman of Wilsonville in
The lead attorney for the operator did not return calls to
clarify who would be responsible for paying cable's share of the verdict.
Insight Communications Co. Inc. built the cable
infrastructure in 1988. Insight sold the operation to Cencom Partners L.P. -- the operator
at the time of the accident -- in 1990. The current operator is Charter Communications,
according to local sources. Cencom and Insight are among the named plaintiffs.
Randy T. Coleman was mowing grass on the family property,
according to attorneys. On the third pass, the rear tire of his tractor hooked on the guy
wire. The wheel rode up the wire, flipping the vehicle rear over nose and crushing the
Cochran said the wire was in a setting that was hard to
see. It had been installed a few years earlier as plant was built to service a nearby
subdivision. A cable-plant supervisor who had installed infrastructure all over Alabama,
including at this site, said guy markers were never used, according to testimony cited by
The family successfully sued Alabama Power, which owns the
pole. Testimony indicated that employees for the power company checked the installation by
cable representatives and allegedly approved placement.
The family also named the tractor manufacturer, New Holland
North America Inc., for product liability. But the jury dismissed the suit against the
tractor maker because seat belts and a roll cage, which may have prevented the death, were
not design requirements on the tractor model.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued unsuccessfully that the
tractor driver was negligent. The attorney for the power company told local reporters he
will seek a new trial.