A Washington County jury awarded an additional $4 million on Thursday to a former American Electric Power worker injured in a 2007 explosion at the Muskingum River Power Plant near Beverly.
The verdict brought the total award to $5.57 million for the injured worker, Drummand McLaughlin, 53, of Caldwell.
The utility company's attorney, Brian Swiger, suggested the company may appeal the decision.
BRAD BAUER The Marietta Times
Former AEP worker Drummand McLaughlin, left, talks with his wife, Lee Ann, as attorneys discuss his injury case with Washington County Common Pleas Judge Ed Lane.
"I want to preserve our right to appeal," Swiger told Washington County Judge Ed Lane, moments after the jury left the courtroom.
On Tuesday, the jury determined Ohio Power, a division of AEP, acted with disregard to safety standards, which contributed to the explosion. The blast killed one man and injured nine others, including McLaughlin.
Based on the Tuesday findings, the jury awarded McLaughlin $1.57 million for pain and suffering, lost wages and medical costs associated with his injuries. Also, his wife, Lee Ann McLaughlin, was awarded $100,000 for emotional suffering.
In addition to compensatory damages, the jury also found Tuesday that Ohio Power was liable for punitive damages.
Testimony during the two-week trial showed that AEP had experienced a similar explosion at its Kammer Plant in West Virginia approximately 15 months earlier, but had not taken steps to correct the same problems at the local facility.
Geoffrey Brown, the Wheeling, W.Va. attorney representing McLaughlin, said punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer, make an example of that group and deter others from making the same mistakes.
Brown told jurors to use their voice to protect workers at the local plant and elsewhere.
"There's going to be a corporate meeting sometime in the future but you won't be invited," Brown said. "But you can be present. Someone may suggest trying to get by on patchwork or Band-Aids, someone might suggest taking unreasonable risks ... Who at that meeting is going to stick up for the workers? I want your voice to be there to protect them."
After deliberating about four hours on Thursday, the jury returned with a $4 million verdict against Ohio Power. The jury had deliberated about eight hours on Tuesday.
Washington County Common Pleas Judge Ed Lane previously ruled that the case would be divided into two parts: compensatory and punitive. And because the jury found Ohio Power liable for punitive damages, it meant there would be a need for additional testimony and deliberations, which came Thursday.
On Thursday, Ohio Power and AEP officials testified about the companies' assets and liabilities and about goodwill efforts in local communities. Officials said the company has $3.1 billion in equity and made $100 million in profits in the first three months of this year.
Swiger said jurors should consider that coal-fired electric generation plants, like the one in Beverly, are under attack by environmentalists and the EPA and that Ohio Power and AEP are doing everything possible to keep those plants operating and local folks working.
"People may have made mistakes," he said. "I respect your verdict but I submit a message doesn't need to be sent to this company."
Throughout the trial, Swiger attempted to shift the blame for the hydrogen explosion to General Hydrogen, a service company hired by the plant to service and maintain the system. The jurors found Ohio Power was responsible for 95 percent of the damages and General Hydrogen was responsible for five percent.
The jury ruled service provider AEP was not liable in the case.
Jurors also ruled the utility must pay for McLaughlin's attorney fees. A hearing on that matter is set for 9 a.m. Aug. 10.