Adults are key to keeping toddlers safe from electric shock injury

An 11-month-old boy’s electric shock injury from exposed apartment wires is a reminder of how critical adult supervision is

Electric shock injury

A few weeks ago, I wrote about three Boy Scouts who were electrocuted when their catamaran struck a low-hanging power line strung across an East Texas lake. As I wrote then, it’s the tragedies involving children that have always been the most heartbreaking for me in my 35-plus-year career as an attorney focusing on cases involving electrocution and electric shock injury.

I say that not only because three “great young men, men of integrity” were killed, but also because apparently the power company or electric utility simply chose not to follow its standard of care and failed to make the necessary safety inspections to prevent a foreseeable event. Just as with children being killed from coming into contact with a live wire that was knocked down by a dead tree that should have been removed by the utility but instead was ignored and later fell in a storm — as was the basis of my first electrocution-related case — cases like these stay with you no matter how long ago they happened.

I’ve learned about another recent electrical accident, one that involved an 11-month-old toddler getting shocked in his mother’s apartment when maintenance workers left electrical wiring exposed.

Toddlers do not know better when it comes to safety.

But adults do. And when it comes to electrical hazards, adults need to be on high alert.

Apartment where electric shock injury happened was ‘like a construction site’

In July, management at a Shreveport, Louisiana, apartment complex sent its maintenance crew to repair a water leak in one of the units. The job involved making holes in the wall to reach the pipe. But the holes were never covered after the job was done, leaving live electrical wiring exposed and the apartment “like a construction site,” according to the tenant.

Even worse, the tenant didn’t know the exposed wires were active until her 11-month-old son touched one of them, knocking the toddler across the room and suffering an electric shock injury.

Since then, the mother said her child is having bouts of holding blank stares for minutes at a time, has reverted to crawling and is seeing a neurologist. She tearfully told KTBS:

“I could have lost my son. I could have lost my baby.”

Safeguarding against electric shock injury hazards

How could this electric shock accident have been prevented?

The most obvious answer: the maintenance workers should have properly covered up the open parts of the wall where the wires were exposed — even if it needed to be done as a temporary measure before continuing work or before completely restoring the wall.

This toddler suffered an electric shock injury, but it could have been an electrocution death just as easily. In addition, the maintenance workers should have been told in advance that a toddler lived in the unit (the KTBS story doesn’t indicate whether the workers knew, or should have known, or that they had been alerted) so appropriate care could have been exercised.

Tenants have rights according to each state’s housing laws, including what the landlord or apartment management company is responsible for and what they can be held liable for. If the landlord doesn’t take appropriate steps to prevent hazards that would prompt an accident like the Shreveport toddler’s, the tenant should document the problem and file complaints with the city and the Better Business Bureau to have it corrected. (Apparently, this apartment complex had not met code prior; according to KTBS, it was cited by Shreveport’s fire department for failing to keep an electric panel and wall outlets at the pool covered.)

But don’t forget, parents also have a responsibility to keep their children safe and to safeguard against electrical hazards in the home.

This means putting plastic safety covers on electric outlets, keeping plug-in appliances as far away from a child’s reach as possible, and making sure any loose or exposed electrical wires are either removed by an electrician or securely covered up.

As much as we try, we can’t watch our children all the time. But the toddler years are critical ones in terms of their safety. They are discovering new things on their own, and at 1 and 2 years old, they don’t usually know what can and can’t be touched.

My thoughts are with the Shreveport toddler as he recovers from this accident.

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