As a general rule, it is the function of the jury to determine the facts and the function of the court to state the law in actions to recover for injury or damage as a result of electricity by jury trial. Different conclusions shall reasonably be drawn by different minds from the same evidence. However, the issue has to be determined by the jury.
The evidentiary relevancy rule is a liberal one and the relevancy requirement is satisfied if the evidence has any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without that evidence[i]. In the case where there is a conflict of the evidence or inferences with respect to the ownership or control of electric lines, or as to the dangerous character of particular wires, the question is one of fact for the jury.
Ordinarily, whether the defendant company has been negligent in the erection and the maintenance of its poles, wires, and plant or in the maintenance of its gas pipeline is a question for the proper determination of the jury upon the facts of the specific case presented to it. If there is substantial evidence opposed to the motion, that is, evidence of such quality and weight that reasonable and fair-minded men in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions, the jury verdict should be allowed to stand and the motion denied[ii].
The rule that issues of negligence are to be determined by the jury, if the evidence is conflicting or is susceptible to different reasonable inferences on those issues, has been applied in different cases such as cases involving the liability of telephone companies for injuries to persons from electric currents. Therefore, the jury has to determine whether adequate precautions are taken by the companies to prevent injuries related to electricity.
Statutory negligence is not predicated upon any test for ordinary or reasonable care, but rather is founded on the defendant’s violation of a specific requirement of law. An unexcused or unjustified violation of a duty dictated by a statute is negligence per se[iii].
A motion for a directed verdict for the defendant on the ground that the evidence shows an absence of negligence on the part of the defendant, or presence of contributory negligence of the plaintiff, is not allowed where the evidence is such as to be susceptible of different reasonable inferences in such respects. Therefore, it emphasizes that contributory negligence is for the jury’s consideration[iv].
On the other hand, a directed verdict is proper where there is no evidence that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff the violation of which would result in liability to the plaintiff. Similarly, the court may also withhold from the jury the issue of contributory negligence where there is nothing to show about the issue of contributory negligence.
On a motion for non-suit upon the evidence, all conflicts of testimony should be resolved in favor of the plaintiff. Generally, instructions in actions against electric companies are governed by the normal rules applied in civil actions. The law is that an interrogatory to the jury should only put questions of fact from which a legal proposition shall be deduced. An interrogatory to the jury must not assume material facts. The sufficiency of instructions, while containing verbal inaccuracies taken as a whole, fairly presents the law applicable to the case. An objection to the mere form of an instruction should be specific. Instructions, in order to be correct, must properly state the substantive law in regard to liability for electrical injuries.
[i] Great Am. Ins. Co. v. Moye, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83320 (M.D. Fla. July 19, 2010).
[ii] Rawson v. Midsouth Rail Corp., 738 So. 2d 280, 288 (Miss. Ct. App. 1999).
[iii] Lindsey v. DeGroot, 898 N.E.2d 1251, 1260 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009).
[iv] Isaacs v. Watson, 218 Ark. 568, 569-570 (Ark. 1951).