Protecting children from downed power lines is more important than pretty trees

While neighbors argue over trimming trees near power lines in Commerce Township MI, there are real electrocution dangers when trees come too close to utility structures


It’s a common occurrence. Neighbors squabbling about property lines and aesthetics near their homes, especially when it comes to trimming trees near power lines. The latest disagreement is occurring in Commerce Township, Michigan and is making television news in Metro Detroit.

As to the two Commerce Township neighbors are battling over the potential tree trimming, Paul Francis wants the trees near the residential power lines taken down. But the neighbor, who actually owns the property where the trees are located, isn’t having it, according to a recent story on Fox 2 News.

As an electrocution attorney, I read this story as not being so much about the disagreement. Rather, it’s about the serious safety issue that arises when trees are too close to power line structures. This issue arises in many of the electrocution wrongful death lawsuits that I’ve filed, including one that was resolved just two years ago, also in Michigan.

What often happens in these cases is that the weight of the trees or the foliage becomes too much for the power lines, and when there’s a storm or heavy winter accumulation, they will likely fall.  This poses an immense electrocution hazard to anyone in proximity. People who step in their normally safe backyards never expect to encounter this type of hazard.

This safety issue is always exacerbated when utility companies fail to inspect and maintain their power line structures. This is probably the biggest reason why people are electrocuted. There’s a duty on the utility companies to inspect and safely maintain their equipment. Think: 100-year-old wooden poles that are rotting and can easily fall with extra weight and force from inclement weather. Unfortunately, many attorneys who are unfamiliar with electrical injury and death cases fail to recognize and raise these issues. because they don’t understand and have experience with the legal duties and responsibilities of utility companies.

Lives and safety are more important than a tree

Back to the neighbor dispute in Metro Detroit. Mr. Frances has the right idea. He told Fox 2 that he has grandchildren who play in the yard and he’s concerned for their safety, as the “live power lines could snap and fall if there’s a bad storm.”

Meanwhile, DTE, which is the Detroit-based electrical company responsible for the power line, says they’re working on the issue by following their “national standards for utility tree trimming as part of its efforts to ensure safety.” Meanwhile, the neighbor protests trimming his trees.

As electrocution lawyers, we’ve written about these national tree trimming standards, in efforts to educate the public and our readers and also to emphasize the legal duty that utility companies have to safely maintain and reasonably inspect their structures to  prevent downed lines when bad storms inevitably occur.

Mr. Francis has good cause to be concerned about live power lines falling in a bad Michigan winter storm.

Are utility companies required to trim trees near power lines?

Yes, absolutely. Utility companies are required by the National Electric Safety Code to trim trees and branches in proximity to power lines and in anticipation of forecasted growth in cycles.

Applicable laws and safety codes require that power companies not only repair the conditions on their power lines that they know to be defective or dangerous, but also that they use reasonable means and inspection schedules to find deficiencies in their systems.

Trimming and removing trees is another way to discover dangerous conditions and deficiencies, as well as to reduce the risk of downed wires caused by contact with tree branches or the branches breaking off during inclement weather like ice and storms.

The good news is that many states are starting to take preventative measures more seriously. For example, I recently wrote about DTE Energy and other utility companies taking a proactive approach to trimming and chopping down trees in an attempt to reduce power outages in Michigan. But this tree cutting also has the benefit of preventing tree limbs from growing too close to electrical lines and causing them to fall. Again, it’s these downed wires that cause many electrocution accidents every year in the U.S.

It’s important for the public to understand that while the aesthetic or the tree itself may have to suffer in the inspection and maintained process, tree trimming saves human lives that could otherwise be lost in preventable electrocution accidents.

In this case, Mr. Frances’s grandchildren are clearly more important than his neighbor’s trees.

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