Court clears way for lawsuits in TECO power plant accident

TECO's Big Bend Power Station (FOX 13 / file)

A state appeals court Friday rejected arguments that Tampa Electric Co. should be shielded from lawsuits stemming from injuries suffered by two men during a 2017 accident at the utility’s Big Bend Power Station in Hillsborough County.

The injuries were suffered by Donald Gansner and James Carter, who were employees of Zachry Industrial Inc., which had a contract with Tampa Electric to do maintenance work at the power plant, according to the decision by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

The Oct. 24, 2017, accident involved a door on a condenser unit blowing open and releasing a large amount of water that struck the men.

Gansner, Carter and family members filed two lawsuits against Tampa Electric. The utility, however, argued that it should receive immunity from the lawsuits because Gansner and Carter were limited to workers’ compensation insurance benefits, which they received through Zachry Industrial, according to the decision.

A Hillsborough County circuit judge ruled against Tampa Electric, finding that it was not entitled to workers’ compensation immunity because it was not the “statutory employer” of the men under state law. That prompted the utility to go to the appeals court, but a three-judge panel issued a 10-page opinion Friday upholding the circuit court ruling.