Utility Company Not Liable to Fire Captain Injured When Aerial Contacted Power Lines

The California Court of Appeals ruled today that a fire captain who suffered an electrical shock when his aerial ladder contacted high voltage lines at a fire scene is not entitled to damages from the electric company. Captain Scott T. Daniels of the Loma Linda Fire Department was seriously injured on May 25, 2014.

The fire occurred at a building that had been used for live fire training in the City of Colton on May 24, 2014. Crews were sent back to the structure on May 25th for a rekindle. Captain Daniels’ aerial was directed by a Battalion Chief on where to set up.

As explained in the decision; “After the fire was extinguished, firefighter Mike Sepulveda rotated the ladder while the ladder remained extended in the air. The ladder came in contact with a high voltage tap line. As a result of the contact, the firetruck became energized. Daniels was in the process of replacing firehoses on the rear of the firetruck when the firetruck became energized. Daniels sustained electrical injuries due to being in contact with the firetruck.”

Captain Daniels sued Southern California Edison claiming the utility company “negligently, carelessly, recklessly, and unlawfully, installed, set up, maintained, repaired, leased, inspected, and/or operated the aforementioned power lines so that they were dangerous. [Daniels] is informed and believes that the setbacks or assessments were not in compliance with existing codes, rules, or regulations. [Daniels] is further informed and believes that the electrical lines spanned in an unconventional manner across the property, and such unusual or unexpected layout of the lines posed an unreasonable risk of harm to [Daniels] and to those similarly situated.”

The trial court granted summary judgment to So Cal Edison, concluding the utility followed industry standards and did not breach a legal duty owed to Captain Daniels. Daniels appealed to the California Court of Appeals Fourth Appellate District who upheld the trial court’s rulings.

  • Daniels’s theory of liability has been changing throughout the case.
  • In the [Second Amended Complaint], Daniels asserted Edison “fail[ed] to properly mark the high voltage power lines,” which can be understood as a complete failure to post warning signs.
  • In Daniels’s opposition, he clarified that he was asserting the signs were illegible.
  • At the hearing on the motion, Daniels asserted he was not advocating for signs to be posted at pedestrian level; rather, Edison should be liable for the signs not being legible.
  • At this court, Daniels is asserting Edison should have posted signs at pedestrian level.
  • Daniels faults the trial court and respondent for trampling his due process rights.
  • Daniels asserts respondent provided late evidence, and the trial court decided the matter on an issue Daniels did not have an opportunity to address.
  • At this court, Daniels does not address the role he played in the alleged due process issues by changing theories of liability.
  • Further, we are not persuaded that there is a triable issue of material fact on the element of causation under Daniels’s legibility theory of the case.
  • In sum, the trial court did not err.

Here is a copy of the ruling.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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