The electric utility company that owns the power lines is responsible for low hanging power lines. They are required to conduct proper inspections and maintenance of its infrastructure to ensure that power lines do not hang so low as to pose public safety hazards and, if they do, to ensure the power lines are raised back up to the safe and proper height.
What are low hanging power lines?
Since the utility company is responsible for low hanging power lines, how do they determine if they are at the required height? To be considered “low” will depend on several factors. First, are they hanging lower to the ground than is permitted by the clearance guidelines published by the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) – or by the guidelines set by the utility itself? Second, did the circumstances warrant that the power lines be maintained at a greater height?
Because of the inherently dangerous properties that electricity and electrical energy possess, the NESC publishes clearance guidelines which specify how high off the ground power lines must be maintained. The clearance or height requirements depend on whether the power line is suspended over or adjacent to roadways, buildings, railroads, bodies of water, pedestrian walkways and farm fields.
However, the laws in many states provide that compliance with the NESC clearance guidelines is not conclusive proof that power lines were hanging at the proper, safe height. Instead, the courts in those states will look to whether a reasonable person in the electric utility industry would have concluded that, under the circumstances, a clearance height other than that required by the NESC was necessary to protect the public’s safety.
What is the measure for whether a power line is low hanging?
The determination of whether a power line is hanging too low – based on NESC clearance guidelines and/or what is required by the circumstances – is made by measuring the distance between the ground and the lowest point of “sag” in the curve of the power line.
The amount of sag that exists depends on the tension of the power line (which is also referred to as a “conductor”) between the utility poles that it runs between. The less tension there is in the power line, the more sag there will be and vice versa. Since the utility companies are responsible for low hanging power lines they have engineering tables that give formulas for how much sag and tension a given span of the power lines between poles should have so they do not snap or hang too low and, thus, endanger the public.
What causes low hanging power lines?
There are several factors that can cause power lines to hang lower than they should and, thus, put the public’s safety at risk.
When power lines – including poles and support systems – are not properly installed, inspected, maintained and/or repaired by the utility company, the insulators and/or pole top hardware will fail, causing the power lines to hang too low or fall completely.
The “electrical load” of a power line may ultimately result in the power line hanging too low. This occurs when the electricity flowing through the power line leaks – due to disrepair and improper connection to the insulator – and increases the electrical load on the hardware.
Increased “thermal loads” from freeze/thaw cycles or electrical current leakage can result in destructive strains on power lines, causing them to hang or sag too low or eventually come down.
“Mechanical loads,” which are different types loads placed on power line structures, can also affect the way the wires hang. Mechanical loads include force from gravity, wind, ice, snow, and contaminants which can put pressure on the wires, poles, insulators or pole top hardware, causing the increased sag that you see.
What are ‘floaters’ and are they hazardous to communication workers and tree trimmers?
When power lines come partway down (below the pole top where they belong), they’re called “floaters.” That means they’re no longer properly connected to the insulator, but instead are hanging.
“Floater” power lines are especially hazardous to communication workers, who work part-way up the pole, and to tree trimmers, who often work from buckets or by climbing to various elevations in the vicinity of power lines. These are the people with the greatest exposure to the floating wires that do not come all the way down to the ground.
What is the utility company responsible for in regards to low hanging power lines?
Each state has its own specific laws about the how they are responsible for low hanging power lines. This includes the duties that a utility owes to citizens to protect them from electrocution and electric shock, including its responsibility to prevent and/or remedy the dangers created by sagging lines.
A good, representative example of the safety measures that must be taken when a utility company is responsible for low hanging power lines was articulated by the Michigan Supreme Court in Schultz v. Consumers Power Company, 443 Mich. 445, 506 N.W.2d 175 (1993):
- Utility companies who are responsible for low hanging power lines have “an obligation to reasonably inspect and repair wires and other instrumentalities in order to discover and remedy hazards and defects.”
- Utility companies who are responsible for low hanging power lines “must exercise reasonable care to protect the public from danger.”
- Utility companies who are responsible for low hanging power lines must regularly maintain equipment – “Electric companies must exercise ordinary care to guarantee that equipment is kept in a reasonably safe condition.”
- Utility companies who are responsible for low hanging power lines have duties to inspect and repair – “Although we do not follow a rule of absolute liability, the defendant’s duties to inspect and repair involve more than merely remedying defective conditions actually brought to its attention.”
- Utility companies who are responsible for low hanging power lines must know that conformity with industry standards is not conclusive on the question of negligence – “Compliance with the NESC or an industry-wide standard is not an absolute defense to a claim of negligence. While it may be evidence of due care, conformity with industry standards is not conclusive on the question of negligence where a reasonable person engaged in the industry would take additional precautions under the circumstances. . . . An argument on the basis of industry standards, therefore, goes to the question whether a defendant breached its duty of ordinary care, not whether a duty existed. If the plaintiff can convince a jury that a reasonably prudent company would have taken auxiliary measures beyond those required by industry standards, then the jury is clearly at liberty to find that the defendant breached its duty, regardless of the industry’s guidelines.”
Who to call about low hanging power lines?
Since the electric utility company is responsible for low hanging power lines, call the company that provides electricity to the area where the sagging lines are located and report the condition to them. Any time you have a safety concern about sagging or downed lines, it is best to contact the utility company or call 9-1-1.
When calling or writing the utility company who is responsible for the low hanging power lines, make notes of every phone contact, and keep copies of all written communications. Sadly, these contacts and notes are conveniently “lost,” quite often in electrocution litigation with the big utility companies so I also advise people to send their communications by certified mail.
Electrocuted by low hanging power lines, do I have a case?
When someone has been electrocuted by low hanging power lines, the family or estate may have a wrongful death case for pain and suffering compensation and other economic damages against the utility. If the electrocution victim was a utility worker, there may a Worker’s Comp case against his or her employer.
Need help from an experienced electrocution lawyer?
The utility company is responsible for low hanging power lines so if you or someone you love is a victim of serious personal injury or death caused by electricity or from a sagging line, you can call and speak with Jeff Feldman, perhaps the nation’s most experienced electrocution attorney. Jeff has litigated cases involving low hanging power lines and against utility companies in states throughout the country. You can call toll free at (800) 548-0043 for a free consultation.Tags: who is responsible for low hanging power lines