Victims of electrical accidents in California have many rights available to them depending on the nature of the accident. Unfortunately, electrocutions and other electrical accidents are not only debilitating and potentially life threatening, but can also cause excruciating pain, and the possibility of life-long disabilities. Because of the range of possibilities in which an individual may be electrocuted, some of the more common accidents will be explored, such as electrocutions at a private home, electrocutions as a result of faulty products, and electrocutions as a result of a problem with the power company.
If an individual is injured in his or her own home due to their own fault—for example, by working on their own home, by plugging in equipment to incorrect outlets, or by otherwise causing an accident—the individual may seek compensation from their insurance company. However, if the injury was caused by improper wiring done by a contractor, or pre-existing wiring in the walls, the injured party may have a strong case for recovery from the contractor, from the manufacturer of the electrical equipment, or anyone else potentially in the chain of liability for maintaining the electrical wiring.
In most of these cases, the injured party will sue for negligence. For example, if the injured homeowner believes that a contractor he hired improperly wired an outlet, and this outlet caused an electrocution, the homeowner must prove that the contractor had a duty, that the contractor violated this duty, that the violation of the duty caused the electrocution, and that the electrocution resulted in actual, physical injuries. In general, contractors have a duty to work in a workman-like fashion with the same degree of care and skill an ordinary contractor would use in a similar situation. In proving a violation of the contractor’s duty, it is therefore important to evaluate the contractor’s actions, and whether the contractor performed below the reasonable standard expected of contractors. This determination is a legal inquiry that takes into account the standard degree of skill and care most contractors would have and would have applied to a job like the one in question. Injured homeowners who are unsure of who may be at fault may sue a variety of parties: for example, multiple contractors who worked on the house, or even the manufacturer of the electrical equipment.
When an injured party believes that the manufacturer of equipment may be at fault for the injury—for example, by manufacturing a faulty circuit breaker, faulty wiring, or a faulty appliance that results in an electrocution—the injured party will pursue this claim under a product liability action. In California, most injured parties pursue product liability claims under a theory of “strict liability.” This type of claim is usually extremely beneficial for those injured because, instead of proving negligence, as described above, an injured party must prove only that the product was defective, regardless of whether the manufacturer of the product was negligent.
There are three types of defects recognized in California under strict product liability: the product could contain a manufacturing defect, could be defectively designed, or it may not have included sufficient instructions or warnings of potential safety hazards. For example, if a consumer is electrocuted by a dishwasher, the consumer could allege that the dishwasher was designed in an inherently dangerous way, making it more prone to electrocute users (a design defect), that, despite being designed correctly, was manufactured in a defective way leading to the electrocution (a manufacturing defect), or lacked adequate warnings indicating that the product may cause electrocutions (a warning defect).
In some electrocutions, the power company may be responsible for the electrocution. For example, the power company may have failed to properly maintain its power lines, may have hired a contractor who did improper work on the wires from the street to a homeowner’s house, or may have provided power at voltages or in amounts inappropriate or inconsistently for normal use.
In general, as with other negligence actions, an injured individual who believes the power company may be at fault for his or her electrocution injury must prove the existence of a duty, a breach of this duty, causation, and physical damages. In general, power companies in California have numerous duties unique to them, which include providing necessary clearance for electrical lines above ground, maintaining insulation material on electrical wiring, and providing appropriate warnings for high voltages or dangerous electrical areas.
For example, if a pedestrian comes into contact with a power line that is hanging too low and is electrocuted as a result, the pedestrian will need to show at trial or in settlement negotiations that the power company had a duty to maintain sufficient height clearance for their power lines, that the power company failed to do so (as is evident from the injury), that the pedestrian’s electrocution injury was caused by the low power line, and that the electrocution resulted in physical injuries. It is important to note that the power company is judged by a standard of reasonableness. For example, if a power line falls down during a storm and injures a pedestrian shortly after, it is unlikely that the power company will be found negligent for failing to repair the downed line immediately. However, if the downed line remained in this condition for several days after the storm, the power company may indeed be found negligent for failing to repair the line within a reasonable amount of time. “Reasonableness” if a determination made at law, frequently by a jury, and takes into account the contexts and conditions under which the power company acted or failed to act.
Power companies are strictly regulated by the state, and must comply with a myriad of other laws intended to protect consumers. If a power company violates one such law, a “negligence per se” action may be possible. In this case, the power company is presumed to be negligent due to their violation of law. At trial, it is up to the power company to prove how they, in fact, did not violate the law, or how their violation of this law did not lead to the injuries suffered. Negligence per se actions are powerful tools for injured parties, because they shift the burden of proof from the injured individual to the power company.
In nearly all of the actions described above, an injured party will be able to recover for his or her injuries, for pain and suffering, future medical care, loss of earnings, and any other consequential damages resulting from the electrocution. Because of the wide range of possible ways in which someone may be electrocuted, it is extremely important to gather facts on the incident as early as possible, and to contact an attorney who is familiar with this area of law, and who can obtain the maximum, fair compensation for the injuries suffered.
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