Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiffs sued Defendant when their father was electrocuted and died after his CB radio antenna came into contact with an electrical line owned and operated by Defendant. The trial court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs. The court of appeals reversed. Plaintiffs appealed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
An electric company does not owe a duty to ensure that the public will not come into contact with every electrical line.
A man was using his CB radio in his back yard when the antenna from the radio came into contact with an electrical line owned and operated by Louisiana Power and Light Co. (Defendant). The line was located about 21 and a half feet off the ground. The man was electrocuted and died as a result. Previously, the man had been electrocuted in the same manner, but only suffered burns on his hands. The man had then asked Defendant to move the line. Defendant said it would do so if the man would pay for the expense. The man’s children (Plaintiffs) sued Defendant for wrongful death. The jury awarded damages to Plaintiffs. Defendant appealed. The appeals court reversed the trial court, finding that Defendant had not breached any duty owed to the man. Plaintiffs appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Whether an electric company owes a duty to ensure that the public will not come into contact with every electrical line.
No. The court of appeals’ ruling is affirmed. An electric company does not owe a duty to ensure that the public will not come into contact with every electrical line.
In order to establish that an electric company is negligent, it must be established that there existed an unreasonable risk of harm. The following three considerations must be balanced against one another: 1) how possible it was for the electricity to escape; 2) when it does, the gravity of the injury that results; and 3) the burden the electric company would have born in keeping the accident from happening. In the current matter, it is not clear that it was very possible for the electricity to escape. There was no reason to believe that the man would attempt to move the antenna near the power line and his prior accident would lead one to reasonably expect that he would stay away from the line. It is clear, however, that the gravity of possible injury from contact with an electrical line is very great. Additionally, the burden to Defendant of moving every line that had the remotest possibility of coming into contact with an antenna would be very great. Though the gravity of harm is great, the other considerations weigh in favor of Defendant and thus Defendant did not breach its duty.