HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – In a rare move, a Worker’s Compensation case has been judicially approved as a publicly-accessible wrongful death matter. A judge has determined an employer “willfully and wantonly” committed egregious acts that killed an employee.
A “Wrongful Death” civil lawsuit was filed against four state contractors and subcontractors. It was filed in the public records of Hillsborough County on February 27.
In this legal complaint, a Hernando County resident, Michael John Robert Petherbridge, 31, died by electrocution on March 2, 2021.
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He was performing duties for his employer, United Signs and Signals of Tavares, Florida, who held a contract with the Central Florida Expressway.
With allegedly no high-voltage training or state licensure as an electrician, he worked as an intelligence transport system installer on a State Road 528 expansion job near the Orlando International Airport.
According to the lawsuit, he was tasked with digging up and repairing a damaged electric cable despite no experience with high-voltage systems. The cable carried at least 240 volts of electricity to power six street lights.
According to the suit, a crew member had dug a four-foot deep, six-foot-wide trench, which was partially filled with water.
Petherbridge allegedly entered the trench while the crew member left for additional tools. According to the lawsuit, when the crew member returned, “Petherbridge was lying face down in the ditch. The crew member thought Petherbridge was joking and left for two minutes.”
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Upon his return, he allegedly turned over Petherbridge’s body and saw dirt in his eyes, vomit, and a burned left hand.
The lawsuit states Licensed Electrical Contractor, Marvin W. Gill of Martin and Gill Electric, Hernando, Florida, failed to turn off the main power to the load center as planned. The suit says Gill, likely a subcontractor on the project under United Signs and Signals, had stopped to converse with a job superintendent and never de-energized the electric circuits until after he learned Petherbridge had died.
The Occupational Safety and Health Agency had much to say about the incident.
Tampa attorney Steven D. Parker of Harmon Parker Law Firm represents the plaintiffs, who are Petherbridge’s mother, father, and son.
Parker told The Free Press he had never seen such high fines issued by OSHA and that, “I’ve never seen OSHA put out a press release that a case was egregiously ‘willful and wanton,’” on the employer’s part.
OSHA issued three serious and “willful-serious” safety violations against United Signs and Signals, indicating the trench should not have been dug until after shut off of the power. Lack of employee training and not providing employee protective devices were among OSHA’s other assessments. An additional violation was cited against the company for issues on a separate project.
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The defendants in the case are Marvin W. Gill as an individual; Martin and Gill Electric, United Signs and Signals, General Contractor SEMA Construction, Centennial, Colorado; and Rommel, Klepper and Kahl, a construction engineering, and inspection firm headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland.
According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Gill remains actively licensed as a certified electrical contractor through August 2024.
Meanwhile, Attorney Parker said United Signs and Signals had appealed OSHA’s high fines, estimated at over $200,000, which has withheld him from receiving detailed OSHA reports.
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