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Widow of Allenstown tree cutter sues employer, state and PSNH over death

The widow of an Allenstown tree cutter who was electrocuted two years ago is suing his employer, the state and Public Service of New Hampshire, contending that each failed to take precautions that could have prevented his death.

The victim, Brian Knox, 52, was at a job site in Newbury on June 13, 2012, when a crane cable brushed a power line, shooting a current through the machine and into an adjacent wood-chipper, which he was operating. He was rushed to Concord Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.

Knox’s employer, Guillemette Tree Services of Andover, was under contract at the time with the state Department of Transportation. The company was later fined $2,800 by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration for failing to maintain a 10-foot clearance from the power line.

The suit, filed last month in Merrimack County Superior Court, alleges that the company, the DOT and PSNH, which owns and operates the lines, were each negligent: Guillemette and the department for not properly supervising employees or warning them of surrounding hazards; and PSNH for leaving the lines exposed and for not installing more circuit breakers, a safety mechanism.

Peter McGrath, the attorney representing Knox’s widow, Jane Kilmister, said in a statement that the accident was “a terrible way to die, and unfortunately could have been prevented.” He has not said how much is being sought in damages.

Officials at the department and at PSNH declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Assistant Attorney General John Conforti also declined to discuss the incident, but said he had sent an official court response yesterday.

It’s unclear whether the state had ever contracted with Guillemette before the accident, or if it has since. Both Kenneth Guillemette, who owns the company and is a co-defendant in the suit, and his attorney declined to comment.

Knox had been with the company less than two years, McGrath said. He and Kilmister were never formally married, but the relationship became a common-law marriage upon his death.

According to his obituary, Knox grew up in Hampton and had been living at his family’s farm in Allenstown before the incident. He was an avid fan of the Red Sox and the Patriots, and often spent time outdoors.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

While I am sorry for his untimely death that is where my compassion ends. The word accident comes to mind here. How surprising that a lawyer would think to sue the State and PSNH as well. You could make a claim about company negligence but that is it. The fact that we have allowed our laws to be perverted by those in search of large settlements is mind numbing. I view this as an indictment of the legal profession taking advantage of Ms. Kilmister.

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