What are common defenses in electrocution lawsuits?
Defense attorneys for large electric utility companies will pour immense amounts of time and money to avoid liability after someone has been injured or killed in an electrocution accident.
Below are some common defense tactics used in these cases — that our attorneys are familiar with and have successfully combated.
Scorched earth defense
A common tactic for defense attorneys is to cause the plaintiffs’ attorneys to spend an abundance of time and energy in responding to paperwork, doing busy work and getting around its defensiveness about the investigative discovery process. This causes the plaintiff’s lawyer to be reactive instead of proactive, and prevents her from getting the answers necessary to properly prove negligence on behalf of the electric company. It also puts more money in the defense attorneys’ pockets as more unnecessary work is created.
As attorney Jeffrey Feldman explains in the video above, in his case involving the death of a communication worker after an overhead power line came off the pole, he had to advance more than $400,000 in litigation costs and take about 75 depositions to combat this defense tactic.
This is why an attorney must be prepared for the complicated issues to be presented in electrocution cases, as well as to marshal the resources to meet the power company toe to toe and successfully resolve these cases.
Comparative negligence (contributory negligence in previous older cases) is frequently argued in different contexts, especially when there’s a down power line. The defense will argue that a person has an “obligation to use ordinary care for his or her own protection, and the degree of care should be commensurate with the danger to be avoided,” according to 27A Am Jur 2d Energy and Power Sources § 213 (citing Am Jur 2d, Negligence §§ 806 et seq). Thus, the defense contends, when a person sees an electric wire and knows that it is or may be highly dangerous, it is his duty to avoid coming in contact with it.
Being in the presence of electrical wires
Some courts have gone so far to say that the mere fact that an individual is aware of the presence of electric wires may be sufficient to charge him with knowledge that the wires may be dangerous.
Additionally, in cases of linemen intentionally touching wires while attempting repairs, comparative (or contributory) negligence defenses are also raised. Even though linemen have a thorough understanding of how electrical lines work, courts will typically recognize it’s a question for the jury to decide, despite defendants raising the argument that linemen know the dangers and they should have been wearing gloves or been more protective.
Sometimes an electrical company will argue that there’s an “intervening cause” and therefore it is not liable. This is based on the premise that power companies are not required to anticipate the negligence of third parties.
For instance, the Court in Anderson v Northern States Power Co. (236 Minn 196, 200; 52 NW2d 434 (1952)), held that an intervening cause did not render the utility company liable. In Anderson, the defendant utility company installed high-voltage wires and complied with all regulations, concluding that the defendant was properly maintaining the wires. A company proceeded to construct a building directly underneath the utility lines without consulting or informing the utility company. While constructing the new building, the plaintiff was injured on the roof when he came into contact with the wire. The Court reasoned the utility company had no reason to believe there would be a building there with people working on the roof, since there was no evidence that a building was ever going to be constructed. Since the line was made dangerous by a third party and not the defendant, the defendant utility company was not liable.