Power line dangers: Life and death decisions and their legal issues

June 28th, 2018

By Dean I Weitzman, Esq.


There are always dangers lurking around us, even in our own backyards.

Many of those dangers are around us all the time, such as high-power electrical lines that fill our neighborhoods.

A recent case in San Bernardino, Calif., underscores the dangers of power lines and the amount of caution we all need to maintain around them.

The case is tragic and the lessons from it are very real.

1 27 2011 power lines iStock 000002489127XSmall

Image credit: ©

After hearing two electrical explosions in his backyard on a very windy day two weeks ago, a 44-year-old San Bernardino man walked into the yard just before daybreak to investigate what had happened, according to a story in The Los Angeles Times.

He apparently found a downed power line which had been detached by 50 mph winds that were blowing that day, according to the story. The man tried to step over a fallen power line, but he stepped too close and was electrocuted by the 12,000 volts coming from the wires, falling to the ground nearby.

His wife ran to check on him and she was also electrocuted when she tried to rescue him.

Finally, the couple’s 21-year-old son ran to help his stricken parents and the young man was also killed by the leaking electrical charge, which was coursing through the ground around them.

Firefighters and other rescue personnel quickly arrived but they had to wait about 15 minutes until power company workers from Southern California Edison could arrive and turn off the electricity, according to the story.

An investigation is being undertaken to determine why the lines fell.

Family friends and relatives, however, told the newspaper that a similar incident had happened at the family’s home about three years ago when power lines became detached in the yard.  At that time, the family “had questioned whether it was properly repaired,”  the Times story said.  The power company declined to discuss the situation with the paper.

The wind storm that struck that day knocked out power to hundreds of other homes nearby, according to the story.

Now the incident is being taken apart step-by-step to determine what happened.  It will likely end up in court to seek compensatory and other damages for the family’s surviving children if the investigation determines that there are grounds for a lawsuit.

For all of us, there are lessons to be learned from a tragedy such as this one.

First, if elevated lines ever fall near you or your property during a storm or due to an accident, don’t ever approach them, according to the experts at PECO. Stay far away and call the utility company and emergency officials and let them handle it.

You don’t know if the downed lines are electrical wires – which can seriously injure or kill you in a flash – or cable television lines — which don’t carry high voltage, but don’t take any chances.

Second, don’t allow others to go near the lines before emergency workers arrive.

Maintain an adequate distance from the downed wires – electrical current can go into the ground and electrocute nearby people without their even directly touching the exposed wires.  Stay as far away as possible until the power has been shut OFF.

Lastly, be sure to take photographs of the scene from a safe distance on your property and write down as many facts and details as you can so you have the information later if needed.  Write down the time the wires fell, the time you reported the incident, the time when emergency response teams arrived and any and all details you can think of.

All of that is critical information later in the event that you would file a claim for damages from the incident.

Tragically, the legal fight for the survivors of the San Bernardino incident will likely continue for a long time.

Was this a case of an act of God due to the winds that morning?

Was this a case of negligence due to poorly made repairs three years prior?

Will the power company argue that the victims never should have approached the downed wires or attempted to rescue each other due to the inherent dangers that lurked?

All of these issues and many more will likely be discussed and argued in court in the future.

In the meantime, keep yourself and your family safe by following the steps above if you ever find yourselves in a similar situation.

And if you are ever injured due to downed power lines or any other disaster, we here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to help you.

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