By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
A Wyoming man is suing a power company and its tree-maintenance contractor in the death of his wife, who died after an electrical fire reached her home in Clark.
William Jerome “Jerry” Ruth filed a wrongful death lawsuit for $75,000 or more, as determined by a jury, Monday in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.
Beartooth Electric Cooperative of Montana and Asplundh Tree Expert of Pennsylvania are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Both have been operational in Park County.
The suit states that Ruth’s wife of 38 years, Cindy Ruth, succumbed to injuries in a house fire Nov. 16, 2021, after a tree made contact with a power line and caught fire. The fire spread along Louis Lamour Lane in Clark, and soon reached the couple’s home.
“As the Clark Fire approached the Ruths’ home, Cindy, in her effort to flee its advancing flames, was trapped,” the lawsuit says. “She was overcome by the fire and died from her injuries.”
Duty To Inspect
Ruth’s suit says that Beartooth Electric Cooperative owns and maintains easements and rights of way for its power lines in Wyoming. The power company contracted Asplundh Tree Expert to trim trees away from its power lines.
The contract between the two businesses, which is included in Ruth’s complaint, states that Beartooth could withhold payment from the tree-trimming company if any of the work was deficient.
Ruth alleges that Beartooth had a duty to inspect the work. He also alleges that one or both companies failed to maintain the trees according to the National Electrical Safety Code.
Wyoming law requires power companies to maintain power lines according to National Electrical Safety Code’s standards.
The suit makes four major claims:
• The power company and tree-trimming company caused Cindy Ruth’s wrongful death through negligence regarding “ultrahazardous activity.”
• The companies inflicted emotional distress on Jerry Ruth, especially as he was required to confirm his wife’s identity at the scene where her body was discovered.
• Both companies were a “nuisance,” or creators of hazardous conditions.
• The power company’s hiring and supervision with respect to its tree-trimming duties was negligent.
Ruth is requesting a civil jury trial and more than $75,000 in damages, with the exact amount to be determined by a jury. He also is asking for one or both companies to cover his legal costs and attorneys’ fees, and for any other relief that “may be just and equitable under the circumstances.