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Into the Light: When Electrical Dangers Attract

I. Short Circuited

Like a short circuit, possible dangers and potentially fatal injuries can jump, one wrong doer to another. These electrical problems occur incredibly often in and around homes. Anyone who has been injured by any electrical system failure should work only with a personal injury lawyer to determine not only what caused the mistake: but who… to see if a third party could have prevented the injury to a resident or guest.

Though the following case discusses  what happened in a public housing unit, the problem could happen in almost any type of home, apartment, residence, or even short-term rentals such as an Airbnb. And as this lead case indicates, the injury may not happen to a resident, but to someone (a child trespasser here) who was simply attracted by the sparking danger.

II. Grounds of Electrical Liability In Personal Injury Law

A large North Carolina power company argued that since there was no North Carolina case on exact ‘point,’ the North Carolina Supreme Court should look to the examples of other states. Particularly, the power company pointed to two New Jersey cases. That State’s Supreme Court argued “if an artificial condition exists upon the land, and which the landowner... has knowledge, and which reasonable men may recognize as having (a) propensity for causing an unreasonable risk of harm to infant trespassers, then it makes no difference whether the condition was created by third persons or by the defendant himself.” In a strong rebuttal to the utility, the North Carolina personal injury law firm successfully identified an applicable North Carolina principle from 1908. In that old case, the North Carolina Supreme Court had emphasized that “liability for injuries to children sustained by reason of dangerous conditions on one's premises is recognized and enforced in cases in which no such liability accrues to adults. This we think sound in principle and humane policy. We have no disposition to deny it or to place unreasonable restrictions upon it.”

This meant  the North Carolina Supreme Court felt no obligation to look outside of North Carolina law, and felt that it also created separate liability for the power utility itself under the facts proven by the premises liability/negligence lawyer.

Because of the growth in the use of public housing as a resource, there is another vital reason in these fact settings, to talk with a qualified personal injury or Charlotte premises liability lawyer. You need to be sure your advocate is very familiar with North Carolina law on types of immunity in all types of utility cases.

Because of the possible tie to government authority here, a third party “Public Housing Authority” may argue that it has some immunity or limitations under public status or public control. A recent case in a northeastern state, however, was successfully challenged by a premises liability attorney there. That negligence law case succeeded in proving that limitations on recovery against public employees at a housing authority did not apply. In that case, the state's Supreme Court ruled that the third parties who controlled and worked for the public Housing Authority were to be called “controlled entities.” Regardless, North Carolina courts or the Assembly may change the rules of housing or utility liabilities. This potential for exceptions or new laws means it is vital to talk with a qualified personal injury law firm in order to ascertain exactly what liability currently exists against public housing authorities and their contractors In North Carolina at the time of your case.

III.   Special rules of liability, if children are injured ...

This case also required the expertise of a personal injury lawyer because of the person who was injured. North Carolina law is fairly settled on having low standards of protection, and fairly high immunity for landowners, in cases of injury to trespassers. In this case, however, since a child was involved, the personal injury lawyer was successful in showing that a special responsibility was owed because the child was attracted to the sparking of the defective transformer.

IV.  Positive, negative rules of legal procedure

This case also effected some important changes in how personal injury law is practiced in the state of North Carolina. Let's discuss some of the immediate benefits of talking with an experienced premises or personal injury lawyer. This consult should happen as soon as the cause of a housing/electrical accident becomes suspected. As you will be able to see, the legal process itself may work against the claim if a party delays too long in trying to investigate who was partly or mostly to blame.

Because there is a protection in the legal system --- a sort of failsafe, not unlike the better electrical systems in use. Some defendants may argue that they are able to prevent being sued at different times or in different venues. True enough, personal injury law respects this as a valid legal defense. In this case, however, the power company argued that it should have the right to have the trial court dismiss a claim against it, unless a third-party defendant has its liability settled at the same time. Let’s put that in more practical terms: what advantage is the power company seeking, by doing this?

The motivation for a defendant (the power company here) to do this can be legal and honorable. However. The motivation may also reflect a tactical desire to confuse the issues of control, and knowledge, and liability in front of a jury, or to shift more and more of the liability to another third party... arguably, in this case onto a contractor, who installed the possibly defective electrical equipment. 

Conclusions:   

But, if the corporate utility had a key tactical strategy for the trial, so did the injured child's personal injury lawyer. And if the corporate utility had an argument for why it should be given the opportunity to present its case for liability alongside all other third parties, the personal injury lawyer had a better reason for not allowing this. This partially reflects another guiding legal principle: once you pick a path for your trial strategy, there are some obstacles in  changing it after the trial starts. One aspect of this “pick your path” limit reflects the necessity for working only with an experienced premises liability or personal injury law firm. An inexperienced attorney may learn of better choices during the trial, but that comes at a cost to the client.

This “follow the path” procedure means that courts, like the North Carolina Supreme Court in here, will look to the pleadings. Pleadings give notice to all parties and the Court, as these pleadings become a road map, to be sure that all sides are being consistent with their legal arguments. Following the pleadings with fair room to change them helps to notify the other parties of not only the alleged facts, but the bases of legal liability. Pleadings become an important tool in the hands of an experienced personal injury lawyer for exactly these reasons. Notice to the utility via the pleadings were also eventually the ultimate chink in the utility company’s argument of binding all the defendants together. At no time, the North Carolina Supreme Court pointed out in ruling in favor of the personal injury lawyer’s argument, had the injured child's lawyer ever advanced any allegation of joint or concurring negligence by the third parties. In other words, whether or not these third parties reliable for the injuries had nothing to do with how the personal injury lawyer had framed the lawsuit involving the corporation’s separate liability to the child.

If you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt in an accident related to poor site maintenance, in any type of structure or premises, with aging or catastrophic equipment failure, or faulty electrical construction, please contact us.  You will speak with a negligence or liability attorney/ lawyer who can best answer your questions.  There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

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