Electric Fence Injury

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 What are Electric Fence Injuries?

Electric fences are commonly used for the purpose of securing property, keeping intruders out of unwanted areas, and keeping various types of animals and livestock in designated areas. They are most often made of smooth steel wire, ranging from a fine thin wire used as a single line to thicker, high-tensile wire.

Less often, woven wire or barbed wire fences can be electrified, though such practices create a more hazardous fence. Synthetic webbing and rope-like fencing materials woven with fine conducting wires became available in the late 1990s and are particularly useful for areas requiring additional visibility or as temporary fencing.

Most electric fences are used for agricultural fencing and other forms of non-human animal control, although they are also used to protect high-security areas such as military installations or prisons, where potentially-lethal voltages may be used. Virtual electric fences for livestock using GPS technology have also been developed.

Buried electric fences (also called “invisible fences” or “electronic fences”) are sometimes used to contain animals, particularly dogs. The buried wire radiates a weak radio signal, which is detected by a collar worn by the animal. If the dog gets too near the buried wire’s range, it will receive a mild shock.

An electric fence uses electric shocks to deter people or animals from crossing the fence boundary. They are designed to complete an electrical circuit when touched by a person or an animal. The voltage of the shock may have effects ranging from discomfort to death. The effects of the shock depend upon the voltage, the energy of the pulse, the degree of contact between the recipient and the fence and ground, and the route of the current through the body. The effect can range from barely noticeable to uncomfortable, painful or even lethal.

Electric fences, particularly those used to protect livestock, are generally safe when you follow correct installation and connection procedures. However, electric fences can trigger shocks that can have dangerous outcomes, especially to people with preexisting health conditions. Due to their nature, electric fences can be associated with various types of injuries and accidents. These can include:

  • Electrocution injuries to humans, including:
    • Cardiac arrest and cardiac fibrillation. There’s a slim chance that a person in contact with an electric fence could suffer from cardiac arrest (unexpected loss of heart function) or cardiac fibrillation (twitching of the heart muscle fibers).
    • Loss of muscle control. Improperly installed electric fences with high amperage can cause electric shocks that result in loss of muscle control. Electric shock can cause painful muscle spasms that can break bones and dislocate joints.
    • Head Injury. This occurs when a person or animal falls and their head touches the electrified wire. Also, trying to pass underneath an electric fence can cause shock to the head upon contact with the fence. A person with a heart condition, especially someone who wears a pacemaker, has a higher risk of becoming unconscious than a healthy person would.
  • Electrocution of livestock and other animals. In addition to the foreseeable injuries if an animal touches a standard electric fence, there are risks associated with buried pet fencing. Some dogs become aggressive when this type of fencing is used. The frustration of seeing prey objects such as rabbits and squirrels, or stimuli such as kids on bikes — not to mention other dogs walking past — can lead the dog to charge the fence line and get a shock, and the dog may become aggressive if shocked too often.
  • Property damage. Fires and similar incidents can sometimes be associated with electric fences. Most often this occurs when the electric fence is hit by lightning.

Electric fence injuries can be serious and can result in medical complications and other similar issues. Electric fence accidents and injuries can occur in various settings, including commercial settings as well as employment/work-related settings.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Injuries Caused by an Electric Fence?

Depending on the circumstances, different parties might be held liable for an electric fence injury.

In some cases, the owner of property that has electric fences on the premises can be held liable for injuries that are caused by their fences. For instance, if they install a fence improperly or are negligent in the maintenance of their fencing, and a person is injured due to a fence failure, the property owner might be held liable for the injury. Negligence is the legal theory that allows injured persons to recover for the carelessness or recklessness of others.

To establish a negligence case, there are four requirements that must be proven:

  1. Duty The defendant must have been required to act toward the plaintiff with “reasonable care.” What constitutes reasonable care will vary depending on the conditions in the environment. Electric fence owners have a duty to maintain the fence so that it works properly, but they do not have a duty to make sure no person is ever charged by it – that would defeat the purpose of the fence.
  2. Breach The person or company failed to act with reasonable care. In this case that could mean that the fence was not properly grounded or was installed partially on a neighbor’s land.
  3. Causation The defendant’s behavior must be what caused at least part of the injury. If the plaintiff was also partly at fault, the lawsuit will go forward but the amount of money the plaintiff can receive will be lowered by the percentage that was the plaintiff’s fault. For example, if the plaintiff was trespassing on the defendant’s land when shocked by the defendant’s faulty fence, both parties will have been at fault and the damages paid will reflect that fact.
  4. Damages Some damage must have occurred. Typically these are monetary damages, such as medical bills and lost days of work. In some cases, the plaintiff may be compensated for their pain and suffering if the defendant was reckless, not just careless.

In other cases, the theory of the case may be product liability. This is an area of law that defines the level of responsibility imposed upon businesses that are involved with the sale, manufacture, and distribution of products that result in harm to consumers. A product liability case can arise if the product was poorly designed, or if it was designed well but the manufacture was faulty. In such cases, the manufacturer of the product could be held liable if a product defect results in injuries to persons. An example of this is where there is a design defect that causes the fence to discharge more electricity than normal. Here, the manufacturer might be held liable for injuries resulting from the defect.

What are the Remedies for an Electric Fence Injury?

Electric fence injuries can involve legal disputes and may require a lawsuit to address such issues. In these types of lawsuits, the legal remedy will usually involve a monetary damages award. The damages may be issued to the injured party to compensate them for losses such as medical expenses, hospital costs, lost work wages, pain and suffering costs, and other expenses.

In cases where a particular electric fence model or product has injured multiple people, a recall may be issued.
Another remedy is a class action lawsuit, where one or a few persons who have been hurt by a company’s electric fence represent hundreds (or even thousands) of other people who have also experienced similar injuries from the same manufacturer’s fence. Defendants typically try to settle class action lawsuits, because they are long and expensive to fight and because even relatively small injuries can result in enormous costs to the defendant when that small injury is multiplied many times over.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with an Electric Fence Accident?

Whether you or one of your animals is injured by an electric fence, or if your fence injures someone/something else, electric fence injuries and accidents can be serious and may require legal action.

You may need to hire a personal injury lawyer in your area if you need help with a lawsuit. Your attorney can provide you with advice concerning the potential outcomes for the lawsuit, and with legal representation in court.

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