Woman with shocking shower wins $4M from power company

Southern California Edison is found negligent after a woman suffers from repeated exposure to stray voltage from a local substation -- by way of her shower head.

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It's not as if you need one more thing to worry about, but it is the weekend.

You shower at the weekend, don't you?

So here's a tale that might make you look a touch carefully at your shower head.

Simona Wilson, 34, of Redondo Beach, Calif., started to feel ill. She was tired. She felt sick and numb. She had no idea why.

That was until the day she touched her shower head and felt electricity course through her. She had recently remodeled her shower. It had previously been elevated, so she brought it down to floor level.

Fortunately, her dad is a contractor. He had done the shower work. And now he suddenly realized why it had previously been off the ground -- to avoid a circuit completion. There was a substation very close by.

As the Easy Reader of Hermosa Beach reports, she took Southern California Edison to court and was awarded $4 million.

The jury believed SCE was guilty of nuisance, negligence, and infliction of emotional distress. Moreover, $3 million of the total award was made up of punitive damages, as the jury members believed that the electric company was guilty of "malice, oppression, or fraud."

Or, who knows, all of the above.

You would be shocked into connecting yourself permanently to a pylon when I tell you that SCE defended itself with electric vigor. The company even put an electrical engineer on the stand who proceeded to run a current through himself.

Yet perhaps the jury members might have all seen "Erin Brockovich." Or perhaps the vigor of the defense made them shudder.

Among Wilson's allegations was that an SCE employee had offered to buy her house on behalf of SCE for $1 million. She also claimed that one SCE engineer had told her that a cow can withstand 500 ohms of current, whereas a human can tolerate twice that.

As if being compared to a cow wasn't galling enough, another of her allegations was that officials suggested she shower at off-peak times. Off-peak for the electrical system, that is.

In any case, Wilson told the Easy Reader: "I think, even going into closing arguments, and even the punitive (damages) argument, they still think they did nothing wrong. This is just like a customer service issue to them, like trimming your trees so the power lines aren't in your tree branches."

This might, indeed, be true, as SCE's statement after the case maintained that the company had maintained due vigilance: "SCE believes its response to the concerns raised by Wilson regarding her home located near SCE's Topaz Substation and its efforts to address those concerns were appropriate."

One person's appropriate is another person's "what have you been smoking?" And, as it transpired, the Topaz substation near Wilson's house had enjoyed a stray voltage problem for at least 20 years.

But, yes, SCE says it's mulling an appeal.

Wilson's full story of how she tried to get SCE to address the issue makes for extremely sober reading. It took her some effort to even get the company's technicians to visit her home.

Of course, she still doesn't have that home currently. Perhaps her award will allow her to buy a new one for her family (she has three kids). Far away from a substation.

 

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