Colo. SC upholds $18M Qwest verdict

Jessica M. Karmasek Jun. 1, 2011, 3:34pm


DENVER (Legal Newsline) -- The Colorado Supreme Court has upheld a jury award of $18 million in exemplary damages against Qwest Services Corp. for its "willful and wanton" failure to implement a periodic pole inspection program.

Qwest, the petitioner in the case, was found negligent for failing to maintain a utility pole that collapsed while respondent Andrew Blood was climbing it as part of his job as a lineman with respondent/third-party defendant Public Service Company of Colorado, doing business as Xcel Energy.

The jury determined that Qwest was 100 percent at fault for Blood's injuries and awarded $9,917,600 for economic damages, $10 million for physical impairments and disfigurement, $1 million for non-economic damages and $750,000 for loss of consortium.

The jury further awarded $18 million in exemplary damages after finding that Qwest acted willfully and wantonly in failing to maintain the pole and by failing to have a periodic inspection program that would have detected the pole's dangerous condition.

Upon review, an appeals court upheld the majority of the award.

Qwest then asked for certiorari review by the state's high court, seeking a new trial on all issues and a reversal of the judgments in favor of Blood and Xcel.

The Court granted review.

In its May 23 majority opinion, written by Justice Alex Martinez, the Court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to demonstrate that Qwest's failure to implement a periodic pole inspection program was "willful and wanton" beyond a reasonable doubt and thereby satisfies the requirements for an exemplary damages award.

The Court also held that the jury's $18 million exemplary damages award is within a constitutionally permissible range that is not "grossly excessive."

"We conclude that Qwest's failure to implement a periodic pole inspection program was sufficiently reprehensible to justify an exemplary damages award slightly less than compensatory damages," it wrote.

Qwest recently merged with CenturyLink, the third largest telecommunications company in the U.S.

According to its website, CenturyLink provides broadband, voice and wireless services to consumers and businesses across the country. In addition, the company provides data, voice and managed services to business, government and wholesale customers in local, national and select international markets through its advanced fiber optic network and multiple data centers.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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