Electrocution dangers may be lurking where you least expect

Electrocution of bicyclist on the Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail in Tampa, Florida, due to a downed power line, shows why utilities need to be proactive in inspection and maintenance to protect unsuspecting public

Electrocution death of bicyclist, downed power line

People ride their bicycles because it’s fun, and a fun way to stay healthy and live longer.

Who would ever imagine that going for a bike ride would result in being electrocuted and killed by a downed power line?

That’s exactly what happened on the Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail in Tampa, Florida, when a bicyclist came into contact with a downed, Tampa Electric Company power line.  This power line never have been in the bicyclist’s path in the first place.

This is heart-breaking news for the bicycle rider’s family and, from my perspective as an electrocution attorney, this is a tragedy that should have been easily avoided.

Too often, utilities fail to perform required servicing and maintenance that power lines require.

Similarly, utilities are frequently far too slow in responding and protecting the public from electrocution and electrical shock dangers that arise when their power lines go down.

Which is what appears to be exactly what happened in Tampa.

After a bicyclist died due to coming into contact with a downed power line, the Tampa Bay Times reported that a spokesperson for the utility that was responsible for the “energized wire” offered the following feeble and seemingly incriminating statement:

“The day of [the bicyclist’s] death, … crews had been scrambling to restore power to about 14,000 customers, so it was possible the fallen line, which carries 7,620 volts, was down for 10 hours and that workers simply didn’t get to it in time.”

Didn’t get to it in time?

When what’s at stake is life and death – which is always the case when the risk of electrocution and electrical shock injury is present – time is of the essence for a utility’s prompt removal of a lethal threat.

Bicyclist hit with ‘fatal jolt of electricity’

According to the Tampa Bay Times:

Gregory Patterson, a “47-year-old officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission” received “a fatal jolt of electricity” when he “came into contact with [an] energized [Tampa Electric Company] wire” as he “pedaled his bicycle along the Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail …”

Why was a downed power line in a place where it posed a lethal electrocution threat?

In the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Mr. Patterson’s estate, it’s alleged that Tampa Electric Company negligently caused his death because:

  • The utility “should have known that the power line had fallen from pole No. 168040, presenting a danger to people using the paved recreational trail.”
  • As a result of “strong storms [that] rolled through the area … the night before Patterson was killed,” “Tampa Electric received reports of darkened streetlights along the causeway and a partial power outage [near where Mr. Patterson was killed] … details that Tampa Electric confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times after Patterson’s death.”

Making the case for ‘underground’ power lines

I agree 100% with the comment from the attorney for Mr. Patterson’s estate when he told the newspaper:

“‘The family feels like this trail was left totally unprotected … This was a summer storm, not something that’s foreign to an electric company operating in Hillsborough County, and they chose to put those wires above ground in a very dangerous spot.’”

As I’ve blogged previously:

“While the costs are higher, installing power lines underground would prevent electrocution deaths and electric shock injury lawsuits, keep the public and our utility workers safe.”

Electrocution and electrical shock threats posed by an aging infrastructure

Another serious and systemic problem may also have been responsible for this tragic fatality – aging power distribution infrastructure.

Often, the components that fail when exposed to storm conditions are the weakest links in the chain of infrastructure.

In the rush to return profits to investors, modern electric utilities have cut back on the number of linemen they employ, and delayed renovating, repairing, and replacing aging power distribution infrastructure. Weak components are more likely to break under the mechanical loads placed upon them by storms, such as wind, rain, adjacent foliage, and/or ice. Keeping crossarms, insulator pins, and insulator ties in good repair, and detecting weakened components through timely inspections, prevent wires from coming down during storms, and save lives.

Public safety must take precedence over profits.

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