By: Basch & Keegan
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Teen Dies After Being Shocked by Downed Power Lines in Hyde Park
Noah T. Black, a 19-year-old sophomore at the Culinary Institute of America, was electrocuted and killed by low-hanging utility wires while hiking in the federally-owned Franklin D. Roosevelt estate. Black, along with three others, was hiking on an unmarked trail when he encountered the low-hanging wires. According to Hyde Park Chief of Police Eric Paolilli, there was no signage noting the presence of the low-hanging wires. Black was hiking on a cliff roughly 200 feet above a train track that ran along the Hudson River, and the utility wires which caused Mr. Black’s death were put in place and used by Amtrak for the trains running below. The location where the electrocution took place was deep in the park, requiring emergency personnel to hike one half-mile into the woods in order to reach Black after he was shocked. EMTs performed CPR on the teen at the scene of the accident, but he succumbed to his injuries upon reaching the hospital.
Public Utilities Liability
Public utilities must take precautions to maintain utility lines and transmission poles to prevent foreseeable harm to the public, such as ensuring that the poles are structurally sound, insulating utility wires, and ensuring that lines running over public spaces or roadways do not droop so that an individual could come into contact with them. However, that duty would be reduced if the danger were open and obvious, or if the injured individual intentionally exposed him or herself to the electrical hazard.
Liability for accidents involving utility lines and electricity can lie with a variety of different entities. If the injury was caused as a result of poorly-maintained transmission wires or electrical poles, then liability will lie with the public utility. However, if the hazard occurred after the electricity flowed through the property owner’s meter, and the victim was injured due to a negligently-maintained electrical system, then the liability may fall to the property owner.
Black would be considered an invitee on the federally-maintained land, which means that he was welcomed onto the property as a member of the public, and so would be entitled to certain protections and warnings from extremely hazardous conditions. However, liability for Black’s death may become a complicated question. While Black was permitted to visit the public property, he was not on a marked trail when he was electrocuted, which may make him partially responsible for his injuries and limit his estate’s recovery.
Additionally complicating matters is the question whether it was the responsibility of the National Park Service to warn park visitors of the hazardous condition or the responsibility of Amtrak as the party responsible for installing and using the power line, should Black’s estate choose to seek restitution for Black’s wrongful death.
Federal Tort Claims Act
Finally, there is also the complexity of filing a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows an individual to file a personal injury claim against an agency of the federal government only where a federal employee has been negligent in the course of performing his or her job, and an individual experienced injury or death as a result. The Federal Tort Claims act requires that potential plaintiffs file claims against the agency they claim is responsible for their damages within two years of experiencing an injury, and only after meeting that requirement might they be able to file a lawsuit against that agency.
Utility companies owe a duty to the public to protect them from the very serious, life-threatening dangers posed by damaged or poorly-maintained utility lines. If you or a loved one has suffered electrocution or other injury from a hazardous utility or other public electrical line, or suffered other injuries on public property, contact seasoned attorneys in the field of personal injury and premises liability. Basch & Keegan’s attorneys are well-versed in pursuing recovery for victims of negligence. In the Kingston, Ulster County, or greater Hudson Valley area, call (845) 338-8884 for a free consultation.