North Carolina Appellate Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Favor of Utilities Company in Wrongful Death Electrocution Case

Wrongful death accidents are some of the most tragic and stressful accidents that we handle as seasoned North Carolina personal injury attorneys. One of the most common defenses that the other party will assert is that your loved one was acting negligently at the time of the incident and that this contributed to his or her death, rendering the defendant not liable.

In a recent case, the plaintiffs filed a wrongful death claim against an energy company and its associated companies after the loss of their son who worked at a summer camp. The decedent was assisting another camp counselor with bringing a sailboat out of the water when the mast made contact with an uninsulated high voltage power line overhead, thereby electrocuting the decedent who had his hand on the metal portion of the boat at the time the mast made contact.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs admitted that the decedent was reasonably unaware that the high voltage power line was above the boat and that insufficient vertical clearance for the mast of the sailboat to pass under the power lines existed. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants acted negligently in several regards, including an allegation that the defendant knew or should have known that the uninsulated high-voltage power lines created a risk for the camp employees and guests. The plaintiffs also alleged that the defendants breached their duty to the plaintiff to maintain a safe electrical wire.

The defendants denied the allegations and questioned whether the plaintiff was unaware of the placement of the power lines. The defendants also claimed that the plaintiff acted negligently at the time of the accident. The matter proceeded to discovery and several depositions were taken. The plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint based on new evidence and the defendants moved for summary judgment based on their claim that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. The lower court granted the motions for summary judgment, finding that the decedent was contributorily negligent and the plaintiffs appealed, stating that there was a genuine question of fact regarding whether the plaintiff was aware or should have been aware of the power lines at the time he was electrocuted.

On review, the appellate court first noted case law indicating that the question of whether a party was contributorily negligent is typically a question for the jury. In a summary judgment proceeding, the judge takes the place of the jury and renders a final judgment in the case if the moving party can show that there is no genuine dispute of any material fact in the case. The court then cited case law indicating that a person who is aware of an electrical wire has a duty to avoid coming into contact with it, but that this does not mean someone is automatically guilty of contributory negligence if he or she comes into contact with the wire.

Reviewing testimony from several depositions regarding the accident, the court concluded that there was a reasonable inference that the power lines were not a known danger. Based on this, the court reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants and remanded the case.

If you were injured due to someone else’s negligence, or if you lost a loved one in a personal injury accident, our compassionate team of wrongful death lawyers is standing by to help you explore your legal rights and options. We offer a free consultation to help you learn more about how we can assist you. Call us now at 1-844-817-8058 or contact us online.

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