Power lines are all around the general public and can present a real and present danger to individuals who may come across a power line that is exposed or downed. Power lines are built and maintained by public utility companies with the purpose of providing electricity to homes and businesses in the area. Because of the high voltage electricity that is carried via power lines, they can often be dangerous and result in personal injuries to many people.
If you have been injured from coming into contact with an exposed, downed, or otherwise dangerous power line, then you may be able to initiate a personal injury lawsuit for negligence against the public utility company to compensate you for your injuries. However, depending on the nature of your injuries, the public utility company may also be able to assert a defense against your personal injury claim.
How Do I Determine if the Utility Was Negligent?
As mentioned above, an injured person, also commonly referred to as a “plaintiff,” has the right to initiate a personal injury lawsuit against the party they believe is responsible for their injuries.
Once again, high voltage power lines can result in severe and long-lasting injuries occurring to an individual who is harmed by the downed, exposed, or otherwise unsafe condition of a power line. The most common legal theory under which a power line operation company may be held liable is the theory of negligence.
The exact elements of a negligence claim may differ by state. However, in general, for a plaintiff to be successful in their negligence claim against the defendant alleged to have harmed them, the following legal elements must be proven:
- Duty: Duty refers to the level of care that a reasonable person would apply under similar circumstances. In the case of public utility companies that maintain power lines, this means that the defendant should have acted, or not acted, in a certain way.
- For example, a public utility company or owner has a duty to pay attention to the condition of power lines. They must also reasonably prevent dangers to the general population that relies on the use of the power lines;
- Breach of Duty: Once a duty has been established and proven by the plaintiff, the plaintiff must then show that the duty owed to them was breached.
- To expand upon the previous example, say that a public utility company fails to upkeep and provide maintenance to exposed or downed power lines and that failure causes harm to a passerby. In that case, it will likely constitute a breach of their duty of care;
- Causation: Next, the plaintiff must specifically show that the defendant’s actions or inaction were what actually caused their injuries to occur.
- Importantly, no other intervening actions must have caused the plaintiff’s injuries. This means that if the plaintiff crashed into a perfectly operating power line and the power line caused them additional damages, the public utility company will likely not be held liable for those injuries;
- Proximate Cause: Next, the injuries that resulted to the plaintiff must have also been foreseeable.
- For example, it is not foreseeable that an individual would release a set of balloons directly into a powerline or crash their vehicle into a powerline;
- Damages: Finally, a plaintiff will have to prove that they suffered an actual injury with quantifiable damages.
- Quantifiable damages mean that the plaintiff will have to submit evidence of damages such as medical bills, medical expenses, lost wages, etc.
As can be seen, a public utility company owes a duty to the citizens in the area to install and maintain power lines in a safe condition. If the utility company fails in that duty, then the utility company will have breached its duty. Common examples of unsafe conditions regarding power lines include:
- High voltage power lines that carry stronger than normal electrical currents;
- Lack of insulation in the power lines;
- Lack of maintenance on downed, exposed, or outdated power lines;
- Lack of signs and warnings posted near the power lines; and
- Placing the power lines in a dangerous location.
If an individual was injured as a result of any of the above-listed factors, that individual can assert that the utility company was negligent. In addition, a third party or a natural disaster may cause the power lines maintained by the utility company to become dangerous. In that case, the public utility company may still be liable if the utility company had knowledge of the dangerous situation or conditions but did not timely repair or remedy the situation.
If an individual is successful in their negligence lawsuit against the public utility company, they may typically recover the following damages:
- Medical bills and other related medical costs, such as prescription bills or hospital stay bills;
- Lost wages;
- Damages related to pain and suffering;
- In extreme cases, damages related to a wrongful death lawsuit;
- Loss of consortium;
- Emotional distress;
- Punitive damages.
In many cases, medical examiners and experts are often necessary in order to determine the extent of an individual’s injuries, as well as the basis for the plaintiff’s damage award. Punitive damages may also be ordered by the court’s discretion. This means that the plaintiff can request punitive damages. However, it will ultimately be up to the judge to determine whether or not the gross negligence of the case is serious enough to warrant such punitive damages.
What Defenses Are Available to the Public Utility?
As mentioned above, a public utility company may assert a legal defense to the negligence claims being asserted against them. For instance, the public utility company will often try to argue that it should not be liable because the plaintiff voluntarily came into contact with the power line.
For instance, if the plaintiff drove their car into the power line, then the utility company could not have prevented that action from occurring. This is an example of an assertion of contributory negligence.
Another legal defense is that a third party is the reason for the injuries to the plaintiff and not the public utility company. Finally, the best legal defense for the utility company is that they were not the proximate cause of the injuries that occurred to the plaintiff. Any legal defense that attacks an element of the negligence claim asserted by the plaintiff may result in the negligence claim that was brought against the public utility company being dismissed.
Should I Contact an Attorney About My Injury?
Power line accidents and injuries may be very serious and can often result in long-term injuries to any individual that comes into contact with an exposed, downed, or otherwise dangerous power line. As such, if you have been hurt by a power line that you believe to be the result of a negligent act of the public utility company, you should immediately consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer.
An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to help you determine if the public utility company may be held liable for the damages you suffered. If liability exists, an attorney can also initiate a civil lawsuit against the utility company that is responsible for your injuries. Further, an attorney can also represent you in court, as necessary.