A generating company which merely sells electric current to a distributing company, has no control over the wires and appliances of the distributing company, and therefore is not liable for injuries or damages resulting from the condition of such wires and appliances, at least in the absence of knowledge of such condition. Similarly, an electric company collecting electricity, selling, and delivering it to another electric company, at a point where the wires of the two companies meet, is not liable for the death of a person coming in contact with a grounded wire of the latter company over which the former company had no control.
Where the wiring of a building is not done and the fixtures not installed by the company furnishing the electricity and an injury ensues solely as a result of some defect in the wiring or fixtures of which the electric company had no knowledge and it is under no contractual obligation to keep such wiring or fixtures in proper repair, its only obligation being to supply the electric current, it is not liable for such injury[i].
A landowner who has erected and maintained on his/her land high-voltage electric wires is required to safeguard from injuries members of the public as the electric companies engaged in the transmission of electric power do.
Generally, an employer is not liable for the negligence of his/her independent contractor or the latter’s servants. Therefore, while ascertaining the liability for injuries from electric wires or appliances, it is very much important to determine whether the person whose negligence was responsible for the injury was an independent contractor.
However, when an electric company owes a direct duty to its patron, then such duty cannot be evaded and shifted to an independent contractor who is employed to perform it. Therefore, where an absolute obligation is imposed upon a city to attend itself to the matter of wiring, the responsibility for any defects in the wiring rests upon the city, although the practice had been to leave everything in that connection to an independent contractor.
If the supplier of electricity also undertakes to install wiring, parts of the wiring system, or electrical appliances, it is responsible for constructive knowledge of defects or insufficiencies which present potential hazards[ii].
However, there is no duty on one engaged in the sale and distribution of electricity to inspect wiring and appliances of its customer over which it has no control, and it is not liable for injury arising from a defect in wiring and appliances unless it had knowledge of such defect[iii].
As a general rule, an employer of an independent contractor does not have a duty to see to it that the independent contractor performs its work in a safe manner. This rule has been applied in situations where an independent contractor’s employee is electrocuted on the grounds of the employer.
An employer of an independent contractor is not liable for injuries suffered by that independent contractor’s employee. Exceptions to this rule include when the power company exercises a controlling and pervasive role over the independent contractor’s work, or the power company assumes affirmative safety duties, or when the power company is negligent in hiring an unskilled or incompetent contractor.
A power company may retain a broad general power of supervision and control as to the results of the work so as to insure satisfactory performance of the independent contractor including the right to inspect, the right to stop the work, the right to make suggestions or recommendations as to details of the work, the right to prescribe alterations or deviations in the work without changing the relationship from that of owner and independent contractor or the duties arising from that relationship.
It is a general principle that liability for injuries to the servant of an independent contractor rests upon the principal employer where the premises upon which stipulated work is executed remain under his or her control, and the injuries arise out of the abnormally dangerous condition thereof, the principal employer being, and the servant not being, chargeable with knowledge thereof. Under the common law, when a dangerous condition exists on the property of which the landowner is aware and which is not likely to be discovered by an invitee, the landowner has a duty to either warn the invitee of the condition or to take precautions to protect the invitee from the known dangers[iv].
An electric company or other power provider which employs an independent contractor to inspect lines, trim trees, remove and replace its defective poles, or to replace any defective appliance owes the employees of the contractor the duty to provide safe working conditions.
The duty of a property owner or electric provider to an independent contractor’s employees cannot be delegated, where there is sufficient owner or company participation in the work. Similarly, in some instances the landowner’s duty to provide a safe workplace is also non-delegable.
An independent contractor is not liable for his or her negligence in performing the contract where the injury to a third person occurs after the contract has been completed and accepted by the owner. An electrical contractor is not liable to third persons after acceptance of the work if the contractor carried out the plans, specifications, and directions carefully. In that case the responsibility is assumed by the employer, at least where the plans are not so obviously dangerous that no reasonable person would follow them.
An owner or contractor is justified in relying on the experience and skill of an architect or builder except where plans are so obviously defective that a contractor of average skill and ordinary prudence would not have attempted the construction according to the plan[v].
In the absence of a statute, municipal corporations engaged in the discharge of powers and duties imposed upon them by the legislature as governmental agencies of the state, are not liable for a breach of duty by their officers, because the officers are the agents of the state selected by such municipalities. However, when municipalities are acting in their ministerial or corporate character in the management of property used for their own benefit or profit, discharging powers and duties voluntarily assumed for their own advantage, they are subject to the same duties as private corporations engaged in the same business.
[i] Fickeisen v. Wheeling Elec. Co., 67 W. Va. 335 (W. Va. 1910).
[ii] Chambers v. Buettner, 295 Ala. 8, 11 (Ala. 1975).
[iii] Decatur v. Parham, 268 Ala. 585 (Ala. 1959).
[iv] Davis v. Hoosier Energy Rural Elec. Coop., 19 F.3d 365, 369 (7th Cir. Ind. 1994).
[v] East Hampton Dewitt Corp. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 490 F.2d 1234, 1244 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1973).