The mother of an 8-year-old boy badly burned when he crawled into anunlocked electrical transformer at an Annapolis public housing complex has filed a $25 million lawsuit against the Annapolis Housing Authority and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
The suit, filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, blames "gross, wanton and reckless" negligence for the April 23 accident that burned Terrence Tolbert at the Robinwood public housing complex on Tyler Avenue.
Terrence suffered third-degree burns over much of his body and lost his right arm when he crawled into the 13,000-volt transformer to retrieve a stick.
The lawsuit, listing Terrence's mother, Juanita Johns, as the plaintiff, blamed a broken lock and latching mechanism for both the April accident and a similar incident that burned three children at the same transformer in 1980.
Between the two incidents, the suit contends, neither the authority, which owns the transformer, nor BG&E; have made any attempt to repair the defective lock and latch.
But Art Slusark, a BG&E; spokesman, said yesterday that the utility bears no responsibility to maintain the transformers because the authority owns them.
"It's our understanding that we are not involved in this case in any way because it is Annapolis Housing Authority equipment," Slusark said, adding that BG&E; planned to ask a judgeto remove it as a defendant in the suit.
Alan H. Legum, the Annapolis attorneyrepresenting Johns, disagreed, asserting that BG&E; is responsible for inspecting the transformers.
"They're shooting 13,000 volts of electricity through these transformers, and I can't believe anybody would suggest they have no responsibility for making sure they're adequately safeguarded," he said.
The suit seeks $12.5 million to compensate Johns and her son and $12.5 million in punitive damages.
The attorney representing the authority, Steven P. Resnick, said yesterday that he had not reviewed the suit closely and declinedto comment on specifics. But he did say that the suit seeks damages far exceeding the state limit of $200,000 on claims against local housing authorities.
Housing Authority officials have said that they keep locks on all 42 transformers in the city's 10 public housing complexes but that vandals had broken into the Robinwood transformer days before the April 23 accident.
The Robinwood transformer has since been fenced in, and the authority is having tamper-resistant locks placed on all other transformers in public housing.
Legum also represented the mother of a 10-year-old severely burned by the same transformer in 1980 and won a $30,000 judgment in that case. The authority had agreed then to make certain the transformers remained beyond the reach of children, he said.
Johns' medical bills for Terrence's treatment have already exceeded $200,000, Legum said, and she had to leave her job at Anne Arundel Medical Center to care for her son and shuttle him to doctors and hospitals.
Terrence was released a few weeks ago from Children's Hospital National Medical Center in Washington, where he underwent treatment for burns and received skin grafts on both legs. He's now at Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, where heis learning to walk again and being fitted for an artificial right arm.