Justia Utilities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
In re Oncor Electric Delivery Co., LLC
The Supreme Court denied mandamus relief in this action considering whether an electric utility may compel a plaintiff who alleges a common law personal injury claim to appear before the Public Utility Commission before appearing in court, holding that the Commission may not do so unless the claim complains about the utility's rates or its provision of electrical service.This was a personal injury claim against a utility arising under duties at common law and consumer protection statutes. Plaintiff alleged well-settled elements of a negligence claim, but his allegations did not rely on a utility acting in its regulated capacity, nor on a disruption of or failure to provide electrical service. At issue was whether the action was a regulatory action within the auspices of the Commission. The Supreme Court denied the utility's petition for writ of mandamus asking the trial court to abate the case to require Plaintiff to exhaust his administrative remedies before the Commission, holding that this action was not a regulatory action within the auspices of the Commission. View "In re Oncor Electric Delivery Co., LLC" on Justia Law
In re Texas-New Mexico Power Co.
The Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of mandamus sought by Texas-New Mexico Power Co. (TNM) in this negligence action, holding that Plaintiffs' claim was not one within the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) exclusive original jurisdiction because it was not about TNM's operations and services as a utility.Plaintiffs, a larger number of homeowners near the Junemann Bayou and Las Marque, sued TNM, their electric utility, for damages due to flooding during Hurricane Harvey, alleging that TNM was negligent in not requiring its contractor to secure wooden mats to the ground during a construction project. The trial court denied TNM's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and TNM petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that the PUC's exclusive original jurisdiction did not extend to the issues underlying this tort claim. View "In re Texas-New Mexico Power Co." on Justia Law
Mader v. Duquesne Light
In September 2012, Steven Mader was working on a project involving repairs to a chimney, fireplace, and front stoop of a home in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After Mader completed the project and his crew was cleaning the premises, his customer asked if he would check the gutters of the home to see if any mortar from the chimney repair had washed into the gutters during a recent rainstorm. Mader, after checking the gutters, was returning to his truck with the ladder. Mader had not noticed that there was an electrical power line only 11 feet from the customer’s home. The top of the ladder made contact with the power line and 13,000 volts of electricity ran down the ladder and through Mader’s body. Mader survived, but had sustained significant injuries to his feet and arms. Mader was eventually able to return to work, but closed his business for good following his final surgery. In April 2013, Mader sued Appellee Duquesne Light Company, the owner of the power line the ladder came into contact with, in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Mader alleged that Duquesne Light’s negligence in maintaining the electric lines too close to the ground caused his injuries and that Duquesne Light acted with reckless indifference to his safety; he also sought punitive damages. At the conclusion of a trial by jury, Duquesne Light was found to be 60% negligent and Mader was found to be 40% negligent for his injuries. Mader filed a motion for post-trial relief requesting a new trial on the issue of damages. Duquesne Light acknowledged that Mader was entitled to a new trial on damages for pain and suffering until the date his wounds healed, and disfigurement. It denied, however, that Mader was entitled to a new trial on future noneconomic damages or either past or future lost earnings. Nevertheless, the trial court granted Mader’s request for a new trial on all damages. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the superior court that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering a new trial on all damages. View "Mader v. Duquesne Light" on Justia Law
Milliken & Co. v. Georgia Power Co.
In 2013, a small business jet crashed into a Georgia Power Company transmission pole on Milliken & Company’s property near the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport in Thomson, Georgia. The two pilots were injured and the five passengers died. In the wake of the crash, the pilots and the families of the deceased passengers filed a total of seven lawsuits against multiple defendants, including Georgia Power and Milliken. The complaints in those seven suits alleged that a transmission pole located on Milliken’s property was negligently erected and maintained within the airport’s protected airspace. The record evidence showed Georgia Power constructed the transmission pole on Milliken’s property for the purpose of providing electricity to Milliken’s manufacturing-plant expansion, and that the pole was constructed pursuant to a 1989 Easement between Georgia Power and Milliken. In each of the seven suits, Milliken filed identical cross-claims against Georgia Power, alleging that Georgia Power was contractually obligated to indemnify Milliken “for all sums that Plaintiffs may recover from Milliken” under Paragraph 12 of the Easement. Georgia Power moved for summary judgment on the crossclaims, which were granted. The trial court reasoned Paragraph 12 of the Easement operated as a covenant not to sue, rather than as an indemnity agreement, because it “nowhere contains the word ‘indemnity’” and “it is not so comprehensive regarding protection from liability.” The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment to six cases. Rather than adopt the trial court’s reasoning, the appellate court held that the provision was an indemnity agreement and affirmed the trial court by applying Georgia’s anti-indemnity statute, OCGA 13-8-2 (b), to determine that Paragraph 12 of the Easement was “void as against public policy,” a theory argued before the trial court but argued or briefed before the Court of Appeals. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred in its construction and application of OCGA 13-8-2(b), vacated the judgment and remanded for the lower court to consider whether, in the first instance, the trial court’s rationale for granting Georgia Power’s motions for summary judgment and any other arguments properly before the Court of Appeals. View "Milliken & Co. v. Georgia Power Co." on Justia Law
Wilson v. Southern California Edison Co.
Plaintiff filed suit against Edison, alleging claims related to the flow of electricity due to neutral-to-earth voltage (NEV) that came from Edison's electrical substation and flowed onto plaintiff's property. On retrial, the jury found in favor of plaintiff and awarded her damages on her nuisance claim, but the trial court denied plaintiff's motion for attorney fees. Both parties appealed. The Court of Appeals held that, based upon the evidence presented at trial, the court could not conclude as a matter of law that the harm plaintiff suffered did not outweigh the public benefit of Edison's conduct. The court held, however, that the trial court erred in admitting irrelevant evidence related to stray voltage incidents involving prior owners or tenants of the house or other properties, and that the admission of that evidence was prejudicial to Edison. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment and remanded for retrial of the nuisance claim. The court dismissed as moot plaintiff's cross-appeal. View "Wilson v. Southern California Edison Co." on Justia Law
McMunn v. Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group, Inc.
Plaintiffs assert that they developed cancer after being exposed to excessive radiation emissions from the Nuclear Material and Equipment Company’s Apollo, Pennsylvania facility. The district court held that their common-law claims against were preempted by the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act and rejected their Price-Anderson “public liability” claims on summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed. Although the Act preempted common-law negligence claims, the public liability claims require Plaintiffs to prove versions of the traditional negligence elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. With respect to duty, the court noted the restrictions on access to the facility; Plaintiffs did not establish the existence of excessive radiation outside the restricted area. The facility’s license did not establish a tort duty. Even with state-of-the-art data, it is impossible to determine with certainty that radiation is the cause of a given incidence of cancer. Plaintiffs failed to offer evidence from which a jury could find that each plaintiff was exposed to radiation from Defendants’ uranium effluent sufficiently frequently, regularly, and proximately to substantially cause their illnesses. View "McMunn v. Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Tavern, LLC v. Town of Alpine
Appellants sued the town of Alpine, alleging claims stemming from Alpine’s financing and construction of a new sewage treatment facility. Appellants sought a declaration that Alpine’s loans for the new sewage treatment facility exceeded the town’s constitutional and statutory indebtedness limits. Appellant’s also asserted a claim for injunctive relief to stop Alpine from enforcing assessments and exactions for the new sewerage system on Appellants. A few years later, while the original case was proceeding, Appellants filed another action against Alpine and Nelson Engineering, claiming that Alpine and Nelson made false reports to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality that Appellants had violated the agency’s rules and regulations when they upgraded their septic systems. The district court granted Alpine’s motion to dismiss all claims against the town and granted Nelson’s motion for summary judgment on all claims against the engineering firm. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Appellants sufficiently pled standing to pursue their declaratory judgment claim against Alpine; (2) the allegations supporting Appellants’ claim for injunctive relief against Alpine were legally sufficient; and (3) the district court’s respective orders on all the remaining claims in the two cases against Alpine and Nelson were not in error. View "Tavern, LLC v. Town of Alpine" on Justia Law
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Superior Court
Rowe, age 12, suffered catastrophic injuries during a family camping trip at San Mateo County Memorial Park, when a tree fell on his tent as he lay sleeping. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) owns and maintains an electricity distribution line that serviced a nearby restroom, and has a license permitting it to enter the park to inspect and maintain its equipment and vegetation near its power lines, including near Rowe's campsite. Rowe’s family paid an entrance fee to the county, but paid nothing to PG&E. The county paid PG&E for electricity. Civil Code section 846 confers property owners with immunity from liability arising from the recreational use of their property, with an exception applicable when permission to enter the premises for a recreational purpose “was granted for a consideration.” The court of appeal concluded that the consideration exception applies to PG&E even though Rowe’s fee was not paid to PG&E. Payment of consideration for permission to enter premises for a recreational purpose abrogates section 846 immunity of any nonpossessory interest holder who is potentially responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, including a licensee or easement holder who possesses only a limited right to enter and use a premises on specified terms but no right to control third-party access. View "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law
Printcraft Press, Inc. v. Sunnyside Park Utilities, Inc.
This case arose from a dispute regarding the sewer system serving Sunnyside Industrial Park, LLC. Sunnyside Park Utilities (SPU) provides water and sewer services to the industrial park and Doyle Beck and Kirk Woolf are, respectively, the Secretary and President of SPU. Printcraft Press, Inc. (Printcraft) is a printing business that occupies a building in the industrial park. In 2004, Printcraft entered a ten-year lease for property in the industrial park. The dispute in this case centered on the failure of Beck, Woolf, and SPU to disclose limitations on the sewage system, including the amount of sewage the system could handle and its lack of suitability to dispose of some chemicals used in the printing business. After Printcraft started using the sewage system, SPU disconnected Printcraft from the system in December 2006. Printcraft sued SPU, Beck, and Woolf (collectively, defendants) for breach of contract, fraudulent nondisclosure, and fraud. At trial, the jury found that the defendants owed Printcraft a duty to disclose the limitations of the system and failed to do so. The trial court denied the defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and entered judgment in favor of Printcraft. Defendants timely appealed and Printcraft cross-appealed. However, in 2009, SPU filed a renewed motion for relief from judgment under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), asserting newly discovered evidence regarding whether Printcraft's damages claim was affected by its subsequent connection to the Idaho Falls city sewer system. The district court found that the newly discovered evidence satisfied the requirements of I.R.C.P. 60(b) and granted a new trial on the issue of damages. On appeal, the defendants argued that they had no duty to disclose, that any failure to disclose did not lead Printcraft to believe any fact that was false, that the refusal to give SPU's requested jury instructions was improper, and that the district court erred in denying their motion for JNOV because there was not sufficient evidence to support the jury's determination of damages. In turn, Printcraft's cross-appeal argued that the district court erred in limiting the potential bases for defendants' duty to disclose, that Printcraft's breach of contract claim was improperly dismissed, that the subsequent Rule 60(b) motion was improperly granted, that the issue of punitive damages should have been submitted to the jury, and that the judge erred in denying Printcraft's request for attorney fees. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's grant of SPU's motion under 60(b)(2). The Court affirmed the denial of defendants' motion for JNOV as to the existence and breach of a duty to disclose and as to the amount of damages. The Court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the jury instructions. And the Court affirmed the district court's decision to deny Printcraft's request to put the question of punitive damages to the jury.View "Printcraft Press, Inc. v. Sunnyside Park Utilities, Inc." on Justia Law
Wis. Pub. Serv. Corp. v. Arby Constr., Inc.
The two plaintiffs in this case, Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPSC) and Associated Electric & Gas Insurance Services Limited (AEGIS), brought suit against the defendant, Arby Construction, Inc. (Arby), for indemnification of the damages that the plaintiffs paid in the settlement of a tort suit in federal court. The circuit court dismissed the AEGIS claim against Arby on the basis of claim preclusion. At issue on appeal was whether AEGIS raised, in the form of an affirmative defense, a cross-claim against Arby in the prior federal action and was therefore precluded from pursuing the same claim in this action because the claim was adjudicated in the federal judgment of dismissal. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals, which affirmed the circuit court, holding that AEGIS's claim was raised, in substance, in the prior federal action and was decided. Therefore, the claim was subject to claim preclusion and was properly dismissed by the circuit court.View "Wis. Pub. Serv. Corp. v. Arby Constr., Inc." on Justia Law