Electrical Contact Injuries
I’m Katelyn 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 topics related to personal injury law.
Today’s question comes from a listener who says: “My husband was hired to help put up Christmas lights on the trees in the city park and he came in contact with high-powered lines and got severely injured, what are his legal options?”
Electrical injuries can be difficult to treat medically. They also pose challenges legally.
There are two ways to protect people from electricity. The first way is to insulate wires. For example, home electrical wiring is insulated. Insulated wires are wrapped with plastic or another substance that will NOT conduct electricity so that you can safely touch the insulated wires and not get hurt.
The second way to protect people from electricity is to isolate the wires. This means put them high up on a pole where nobody can reach them under ordinary circumstances. The wires that are isolated are usually bare wires. These bare wires have no insulating wrap around them.
You might think that power companies would want to wrap every wire with insulation. However, it’s too costly to do that. It is more cost-effective to isolate wires by keeping them out of the reach of most people.
Problems arise when someone grabs a ladder and gets up close to the bare wires, or is in a lift truck that puts them up near the wires. All of a sudden, wires which were safely isolated, are now accessible and can pose a danger to any person that gets near those wires.
What makes matters worse, is that the voltage in the lines that are high up on utility poles is usually very high-voltage.
The voltage has to be high in order to transmit electricity from the power plant to the local user.
If you look at a powerline pole you’ll sometimes notice that there is usually a large round object near the top which is a transformer. A transformer steps-down the voltage coming from the power lines so that it is at a lower level and can be used in homes and office buildings.
An important question whenever someone contacts a power line, for example if they are in a lift truck trying to decorating a Christmas tree outside, is whether the electrical utility company should have contemplated that people would be in and about the lines, and that in common situations the lines would pose a danger to people.
In such situations the power company can be found to owe a duty to the person who is injured by coming in contact with the lines to make the lines safe.
So, let’s consider several different factors.
What if power company employees know that every Christmas the trees near the power lines are decorated in the city park?
What if power company employees know that pine and evergreen trees (which people frequently decorate for the holidays) routinely grow taller year after year and get closer and closer to the power lines?
What if that same power company’s employees actually in the past would trim the park trees that were near the power lines, but failed to do any trimming the year that someone was injured?
All these facts might be very important to establish liability against the power company.
Now suppose power lines are at the required clearance of 18 feet above a roadway, but because there is a flood in a nearby river the city employees are asked to raise the level of the roadway to create a makeshift Dam or Levy to prevent the overflow of water?
What if as they do so they get closer and closer to the overhead power line?
What if there are employees of the power company in the neighborhood seeing the construction work take place because they are working to repair downed-power lines caused by the storm and subsequent flooding?
And suppose the power company workers see that the City workers are getting dangerously close to the powerline?
Does the power company have an obligation toward the workers? Or an obligation to de-energize the power lines and route the electricity in a different manner so as to protect the workers from those powerlines?
What if somebody from the City called the power company and told them to turn off the power to those lines because of the emergency need to build under the lines and the power company said it would be done but they failed to send someone out to actually do the necessary work to bypass the power lines or de-energize them?
So, to answer the caller’s question, a very detailed investigation has to be conducted.
While it may initially seem like the caller’s husband was at fault because he got too close to the power lines, if the power company can be proven to have knowledge of workers, and yet failed to take steps to protect workers, it may be very possible to hold a power company liable.
I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. 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”.