A Vermont electric line worker traveled to Maine on Friday to say thank you to the law firm that helped him win a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Michael Hemond was seriously injured back in 2006 when a switch he was ordered to pull sent 46,000 volts of electricity through his body.
Reporter Marnie MacLean of New England Cable News was on hand to document Mike’s visit to the Berman & Simmons law firm in Lewiston.
Attorney Ben Gideon of Berman & Simmons represented Mike and his wife Tracey in a civil action against Frontier Communications and five other parties. Gideon discovered that the companies had failed to safeguard an electrical substation, and that Mike had nearly been killed because of their negligence. Earlier this year, a jury awarded $22.5 million to the Hemond family. It was the second largest jury award in Vermont history.
“The lineman and the lawyer”
Michael Hemond is a family man, an avid outdoorsman, a diehard Patriots fan and a beloved youth sports coach. He and his wife Tracey live with their four children in Richford, Vermont, a rural town near the Canadian border.
When he’s wearing jeans, you might never realize that Mike is different. You wouldn’t see the two prosthetic legs. You certainly wouldn’t know about the jolt of electricity that coursed through his body eight years ago, changing his life forever.
On Sept. 28, 2006, Mike woke up early and reported as usual for duty as an electrical lineman for the Vermont Electrical Cooperative. His supervisor sent him to open an electrical switch at the Richford substation, in order to de-energize a section of high-voltage power lines that needed repair work. But something went horribly wrong. When Mike opened the switch, a 5000-degree electrical arc shot through his body. He was electrocuted so badly that the lower portions of both of his legs had to be amputated in an emergency operation.
As the early stages of Mike’s recovery progressed, his family, friends, and co-workers began to ask questions: How did this happen to an experienced lineman? Who was responsible?
Enter Benjamin Gideon, a young lawyer from Portland, Maine. A partner at the Berman & Simmons law firm, Ben is known for taking on the most complex cases on behalf of plaintiffs who have been hurt because of someone else’s negligence. Lawyers in Vermont handled Mike’s worker’s compensation claim, but they referred the Hemonds to Ben Gideon to investigate the broader legal questions.
Gideon, working with Burlington attorney John Evers, filed a lawsuit in August of 2009 on behalf of the Hemonds against Frontier Communications and five other parties. Gideon would spend most of the next five years working on the case and traveling between Portland and Vermont. What he uncovered — through dozens of depositions and thousands of pages of documents — was a stunning trail of corporate negligence.
The electrical switch Mike opened on the morning of Sept. 28, 2006, was unsafe to operate. It was not grounded and did not have insulating components or other features that could have prevented Mike’s injuries. The company responsible for upgrading the substation had failed select a safe switch and to properly design grounding for the new switch. Other companies failed to recognize the dangers of the switch with the increased electrical flows through power lines in northern Vermont. Safety had fallen through the cracks as utilities changed ownership. Mike Hemond and his family paid the price.
Despite his injuries, Mike approached his physical rehabilitation with his trademark optimism. He learned to navigate the world on his prosthetic legs. He went back to work for the Vermont Electrical Cooperative as he and his family waited patiently for the lawsuit to play out. Four of the defendants reached private settlements with the Hemonds. Another was allowed to drop out. The last and largest defendant, Frontier Communications, declined to settle and the case finally went to trial in January 2014.
On Feb. 7, 2014, after a grueling three-week trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Hemonds. The jury awarded the family $22.5 million for past and future medical expenses, prosthetics, lost earning capacity, lost enjoyment of life, and other factors. It was the second largest jury verdict in Vermont history.
“It was such a vindication of the battle we fought for so long,” Gideon said. “In that moment, you realize the power of our legal system. Here is a 13-person jury taking millions from one of the wealthiest corporations in the U.S., and giving it to a working class couple in Richford, Vermont. It doesn’t happen a lot, and it takes a long time to get there, but it’s powerful.”
On the weekend of July 11-12, Mike and Tracey traveled to Maine, where they visited with the Gideon family and met the support staff – legal assistants, paralegals and others – at Berman & Simmons. The visit was a capstone of sorts to a legal saga that began five years ago, and a celebration that justice was done in one of the largest civil cases in the recent history of northern New England.
The visit was documented by reporter Marnie MacLean of New England Cable News. Click here to watch the reporton the NECN website.
“Mike and Tracey wanted to personally come to Maine to thank the people here in our office who contributed so much to the success of their case,” Gideon said. “It really means something to me that they would travel all the way here to Maine to pay tribute to the rest of our trial team.”
“I consider Mike and Tracey as friends as much as they were my clients. We spent so much time together, and the pressures were enormous,” Gideon said. “The defendants used every tactic they could to delay the court process and to blame Mike for what happened, and we just had to keep our heads up and press forward. In the end, justice was done.”