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Close Contact with Power Lines

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question came from a severely injured caller who came in contact with utility company power lines while decorating a tree with holiday ornaments and lights.  He wanted to know his legal options.

Indiana courts have recognized that electricity can be a deadly dangerous force.

The standard of care owed to the public by utilities engaged in providing electricity recognizes that electric utilities must conduct their business operations with care commensurate with the deadly dangers inherent in electricity.  There are three reasons for this:

(1) electrical energy possesses inherent dangerous properties,

(2) electrical utilities possess expertise in dealing with the delivery of electricity, and

(3) the general public cannot recognize and guard against the dangerous potential of certain situations.

In general terms, an electrical utility company is required to safely insulate electric power lines in places where the general public may come in contact with those lines.

However, an insulating covering is not required when the lines are sufficiently isolated such that the general public could not be reasonably expected to come in contact with them.

How does this work in practical terms?

If a high voltage line is raised on poles, where the general public cannot reach, then no insulation is called for because the wire is isolated.

But, where a wire is accessible by the general public and would expose the public to danger if contact were made with an uninsulated high voltage wire, the wire needs to be insulated.

The caller was in a lift that took him to the highest levels of a pine tree, nearly 50 feet in the air.  The wires he came in contact with were not insulated.

The utility company will argue if sued that it did not need the wires to be insulated since it was not likely that anyone would be near the wires.

But, given that the same trees were decorated in past years, it was foreseeable that someone might come within a zone of danger presented by the power lines.

Where an injured party can establish that the electric utility had actual knowledge or notice of imminent danger to an individual, a duty arises to make the power lines safe or warn of the threat they present.

For example, an Indiana Court found that a municipal electric company was liable in one case.  It had notice of a defective condition in the wiring in a building and knew, or should have known, that under certain conditions, that wiring would become highly dangerous and possibly fatal.  This safety requirement applies to workmen whose employment would expose them to high-voltage wires.

A fact issue that will be important in any lawsuit is whether the power company should have reasonably noticed that trees near its line would be decorated?  And, that each year the trees get taller as they grow?

I hope you found this information helpful.  If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions.  You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”