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Electrical Accident Liability

Electricity may be, correctly or incorrectly, a source of a liability claim.

A real electric shock may cause anything from a light tingle to a prolonged illness, to sudden death. But it may also merely startle the victim who then loses his balance and is injured by a fall. (Example 1)
In accidents not involving a shock, electricity may, or may not, be the cause of a fire (Example 2)
An accident involving electricity may be due to an illegal installation (Example 3)
Or to an unsafe use (Example 4)
Or to an improper act by the victim (Example 5)
Liability may be assigned from erroneous understanding by an inadequately trained consultant (Example 6)
Or caused by an inadequately trained employee (Example 7)
An accident may be due to a superficially correct but negligent installation (Example 8)
A claim may be challenged as faking injury due to electrical shock. (Example 9)

Let me describe these examples to show what you may be up against:

(1) Startle and fall. Typically this common injury occurs when standing on a ladder and being shocked while working overhead. In one case an improperly trained electrician was pulling on an electrician's snake when it broke and he fell. He had ignored his instructions to maintain three contacts with the ladder and depended on pulling tension to prevent his falling. (I left the case since my opinion was unfavorable to the plaintiff whose lawyer had retained me.)

(2) Cause of fire and (6) inadequate consultant. A $2.5 million fire was blamed on a neon sign transformer installation. The consultant videotaped a well known experiment in which a neon sign transformer does indeed start a fire. However I knew that the transformer puts out12000 volts for only a few seconds to ionize the neon and then drops the voltage to 12 volts to maintain the light. And there was evidence that the sign was already lit when the fire started.. The suit was settled for $13,000.

(3) Improper installation. Failure to add GFCI circuit breakers required by a reissue of the National Electrical Code resulted in an electrocution death on a boat connected to shore power in a marina.

(4) Unsafe use. Electric power was used to pump and heat the water in a sauna with no overheat sensing device. A fault developed; the water overheated, and a child was scalded.

(5)An electrician was shocked because he used improper safeguards in working with live wires.

(6) Above, with (2)

(7) An inadequately trained electrician in a big factory left a major circuit breaker in an unsafe condition. When the circuit breaker operated it exploded and threw burning oil over the victim. My explanation of the entire system and the working of the circuit breaker persuaded an unsophisticated small town jury to award $1.1 million.

(8) 3 phase electric power was connected to a motor but the direction of rotation was not checked. The motor turned in the wrong direction and the machine injured its operator. (Interchanging any two of the three wires would have corrected the error, as is standard practice.

(9) An employee claimed a fall due to electrical shock startle but his supervisor insisted that he was faking. Expert analysis of the shock argument showed that the shock was plausible but then investigation of the medical diagnosis showed much more impact damage than was plausible if the victim merely laid down.

Expert understanding of electricity, its uses and abuses, is essential for proper allocation of liability.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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