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Our client was employed by a company that moved heavy equipment. They were awarded a subcontract by an electrical contractor to move a large piece of machinery from one location to another within a customer’s corporate property. While present, he came into contact with a utility pole’s guy wire which had become energized with 11,500 volts of electricity.
Two utility poles were located adjacent to the machine that had to be moved. Attached to each utility pole was a guy wire running from the ground diagonally to the upper portion of the utility poles. Since our client needed to drive a large forklift into the working area to remove the machinery, it was planned by the electrical contractor that one of the guy wires would be removed. In fact, the superintendent of the electrical contractor placed a hoist at the base of the guy wire on the day before the accident, in preparation for unraveling the guy wire from its attachment to the anchor bolt in the ground and then moving it out of the way and towards the pole to which it was attached.
On the day of the accident, our client and two co-employees came to the job site. The superintendent of the electrical contractor met them and asked them to assist in moving the guy wire. Our client specifically asked, and was told by the superintendent, that the overhead circuits on the utility poles were de-energized. The tension was removed from the guy wire and as it dropped towards the utility pole to which it was attached, it came in contact with energized wiring on the pole causing our client and the superintendent to receive an electric shock. Our client received severe burns to his hands, fingers and left thumb; underwent multiple surgeries, suffers from PTSD, and has sustained a permanent impairment of his earning capacity.
THE CLAIMS AGAINST THE ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR: The superintendent involved with the removal of the guy wire was a qualified electrician. He had the responsibility of determining the safety hazards involved with this work and instituting and maintaining the required safety protocols. In deposition, he admitted that he failed in that responsibility. He further admitted that this failure directly resulted in our client’s injuries. However, the superintendent also opined that the corporate property owner and a prior electrical contractor which had done work in the area seven years previously were also negligent, which conduct was a cause of our client’s injuries and damages.
THE CLAIMS AGAINST THE CORPORATE PROPERTY OWNER: There was a factual dispute as to the content of the communication between the superintendent for the electrical contractor and the rep of the corporate property owner, relating to whether the circuits on the utility pole were already de-energized or whether a request had to be made to lock out and tag out the electrical circuit. The electrical contractor claimed to have discussed with the corporate rep on multiple occasions the fact that they were going to move the guy wire on the pole and that he didn’t know whether lock out for the overhead wires was needed. Clearly, there was some confusion on the part of the corporate rep because he recalls telling the electrical superintendent that the electricity to the machinery being moved (as opposed to electricity to the lines on the pole) was de-energized and the only inquiry made in regard to the removal of the guy wire was whether the pole would become unstable.
To be clear, the corporate landowner retained exclusive control over the determination of which electrical lines would be de-energized in any given situation. It also retained exclusive control over the process of activating and de-activating the lines. The safety manager of corporate landowner testified that if there was any confusion or misunderstanding whatsoever as to which circuits were being discussed regarding lock out/tag out, the corporate rep was obligated to clear that up so everyone was on the same page. He further testified that the electrical superintendent had the right to rely on the corporate rep regarding whether the circuits were live or not, and to that extent, the corporate landowner was an active participant in a critical aspect of safety that pertained to that project. He further testified that even if the electrical superintendent told the corporate rep that he may have to move the guy wire on the pole, then it was incumbent upon the latter to tell the former that the overhead wires were live and needed to be locked out. Indeed, the corporate rep testified that his job includes understanding what the contractors intend to do, providing contractors with accurate information in response to their questions, ensuring that he and the electrical superintendent are on the same page in terms of how the job was going to progress and getting it done safely, and that providing accurate information to contractors is a critical variable in the way that they are going to approach the job.
In 1997, the property owner contracted with the same electrical contractor to install nine utility poles and overhead wires, two of which were involved in this incident. The property owner’s electrical engineer supervised this project. The electrical contractor subcontracted the job to yet another contractor specializing in high voltage line work. The latter contractor erected the poles in question, strung the aerial wires on the cross-arms, and attached the guy wires. The top of the guy wire consists of a fiberglass insulated strain several feet in length. Unfortunately, the insulated portion of the guy wire was not long enough, so that when our client and the electrical contractor’s superintendent loosened the guy wire, it sagged towards the pole and the uninsulated portion came in contact with the energized circuits. The 1997 high voltage contractor claimed that its only function was to install the poles, the overhead wires. and the guy cable, and then leave the premises. It claimed that after it left the premises, either the corporate landowner or the electrical contractor installed the energized cables running up the pole and configured them in a location such that if and when the guy wire sagged, the uninsulated portion would make contact with the energized circuits creating the hazard to people on the ground.
Our electrical engineering expert testified that this configuration was in violation of the National Electrical Safety Code. Rule 279, A2 requires that guys be insulated where they could come into contact with energized conductors or where they could come into contact with energized conductors due to a slack guy cable. The purpose of this rule is to protect people on the ground that may come in contact with the guy wire. He also opined that the property owner or the electrical contractor should have run the energized circuits up the side of the pole opposite to the guy wire to prevent an electrical hazard if and when the guy wire sagged. In the alternative, the property owner or the electrical contractors should have lengthened the insulated portion of the guy wire so that if and when it did sag, only the insulated portion would make contact with the energized circuit.