One engaged in the business of generating and distributing electricity and who sells and engaged in installing electric equipment and supply current for such equipment must exercise the care of a reasonably prudent person skilled in the practice and art of installing such equipment according to the state of the art or method generally used by persons engaged in a like business at the time the work is done. One engaged in the business of installing electric wires is held to the same degree of care as those who make and distribute the current, because the danger to be guarded against is the same.
Negligent installation imposes liability for loss or injury proximately resulting therefrom, in the case of wiring or appliances owned and controlled by the consumer. However, liability in negligence cases does not extend to defects which are apparent to the user of the chattel or the apparatus[i].
The duty of due care with which an electric company is charged consists of the proper installation of its dangerous instrumentality and the maintenance thereof in a safe condition at all times and places and under the changing circumstances of the particular case.
An electric company has an obligation to make reasonable inspections of wires and other instrumentalities in order to discover and remedy hazards and defects, and to use due diligence to discover and repair defects therein, and a failure to perform such duty constitutes negligence.
An electric company that allows a wire to sag down over a highway, and thereby causes injury to a person using the highway free from contributory negligence, is liable to the person injured. And it is not incumbent upon the plaintiff in such a case to prove that the company had actual notice of the situation of the wire, for if it had been in that condition for such a length of time as to charge the company with notice, it is liable without proof of actual notice[ii].
It is the ongoing duty of the electrical utility to maintain its wires over streets and highways in such a manner that they will not become dangerous to persons and property. However, in the absence of ownership or a duty to inspect and maintain an electric system, an electric company shall not be held liable for injuries occasioned by the negligent maintenance of the system.
A company or a supplier who merely furnishes electricity is not responsible for defects in the system to which electricity is supplied. The duty imposed on the supplier of a dangerous commodity to inspect interior lines, conduits, and appliances on the premises of an end user should be limited to those situations where the supplier has expressly agreed to enter the user’s premises for the purpose of making an inspection, modification, or repair[iii].
On the subject of negligence, the standard of care is that one maintaining wires carrying electricity is required to exercise the care that a person of ordinary prudence would exercise under the circumstances. Among the circumstances are the well known dangerous character of electricity and the inherent risk of injury to persons or property if it escapes. Hence, the care used must be commensurate with and proportionate to that danger[iv].
Similarly, the standard of care a landowner owes to persons entering upon his or her land is to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of their premises for the protection of lawful visitors[v].
In most of the cases, the jury has to decide if an electric company exercised due care in inspecting its wires within a reasonable time after it had disconnected service[vi]. An electric company may be held liable for injuries consequent to its negligence, even if an electric company has no knowledge or notice of a dangerous condition in its system. However, if it conducts its duty with due care and diligence, then the company shall not be liable for the dangerous condition of its appliances of which it has no notice.
If the electric company receives any such notice, the company is entitled to remedy a defect in a reasonable time. However, whether such amount of time is reasonable is a question for the jury.
[i] Person v. Cauldwell-Wingate Co., 187 F.2d 832 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1951).
[ii] State use of Hoffman v. Potomac Edison Co., 166 Md. 138 (Md. 1934).
[iii] Citizens Ins. Co. of Am. v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 203 F. Supp. 2d 837, 850 (W.D. Mich. 2002).
[iv] Polk v. Los Angeles, 26 Cal. 2d 519, 525 (Cal. 1945).
[v] Martishius v. Carolco Studios, Inc., 355 N.C. 465 (N.C. 2002).
[vi] Hughes v. Omaha Pub. Power Dist., 274 Neb. 13, 26 (Neb. 2007).