Is the utility company liable if it didn’t have notice of a power line hazard?
Many people ask our attorneys if a utility company can still be held responsible if it wasn’t aware of the safety hazard that lead to someone being electrocuted.
The short answer is yes.
Power companies can be charged with breaching their duty to protect the public even if they do not have actual notice of defects or dangerous conditions. An experienced electrocution lawyer can prove the following: If the defect or danger could have been discovered by the use of ordinary care, such as making a reasonable inspection, knowledge of the defect can be inferred, according to the case law set in Schleif v. Grigsby.
For example, in Coen v. Cent Telephone Company, the Court recognized that the defendant company “was bound to know that the wires were likely to get out of position and become dangerous by reason of sagging” when the posts holding in the wires were only a few inches thick. The posts were in place for over eight years and the defendant should have done a better job at inspecting the wires, according to the Court.
However, it should be noted that in some limited circumstances, a utility company does not have a duty to inspect wires in the absence of its knowledge that circumstances called for an inspection to determine if precautions were needed.
According to another case, Siegel v. Portland General Electric Company, a wrongful death action was brought against a telephone company when the deceased electrocution victim, who was driving a motorcycle, drove into an unshielded guy wire. The plaintiff argued that the utility company had a duty to inspect the wires and failed to do so when it left the guy wire unshielded. The Court found that nothing changed as to require the defendant to inspect the wire, seeming to focus on the rural location and the lack of a danger due to the small population. There’s some limited support for this holding, but only for the specific facts of running into a guy wire, in which the courts emphasize the injuries were the result of crashing into guy wire, or where the utility pole was not owned by the utility company.