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PA Superior Court Issues Opinion that Increases Likelihood of Successful Recoveries from Electric Utilities

In a case handled by Alan Charkey of the White and Williams Subrogation Department, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, on July 27, 2012, issued a published opinion which increases the likelihood of successful recoveries from electric utilities. The case involves a fire caused by a utility’s restoration of service after a power outage. Hours before the fire, a truck hit a utility pole near a funeral home insured by White and Williams’ client, knocking out power to the entire neighborhood. During the initial incident, there was evidence that a high voltage line at the top of the pole contacted a low voltage line beneath and sent a surge of high-voltage current into the funeral home, damaging its circuit breakers. No fire occurred then because power was out. However, when power was restored to the funeral home hours later, a fire ensued almost immediately, essentially because the building had been left without functioning circuit breakers. 

White and Williams argued that because of prior “overvoltage” incidents, it was foreseeable to the utility that the breakers had been compromised, and that the utility was therefore under a duty to inspect before restoring power.  The Superior Court agreed.  The court’s opinion is a major development in the law of negligence by public utilities.  For decades, public utilities in Pennsylvania have successfully asserted that they are categorically under no duty to inspect a customer’s equipment.  The opinion deprives the utility industry of such a blanket defense.

If you would like a copy of the opinion, Alderwoods (Pennsylvania), Inc. v. Duquesne Light Company, 52 A.3d 347 (Pa. Super. 2012), please contact Peter Parashes at (215) 864-7178.   

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