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Maine Employer Must Indemnify Power Company for Its Employee’s Personal Injury Damages

1400100_power.jpgIn 1995, the Maine Legislature enacted the Overhead High-Voltage Line Safety Act (OHVLSA). It bars people and entities from engaging in specific kinds of conduct around overhead high-voltage power lines until they have notified the line owner or operator. For example, a person or business cannot do work that brings a person or his materials within 10 feet of an overhead high voltage line unless he or she contacts the owner or operator of the line 72 hours behavior doing the work. The person can then negotiate with the owner or operator to arrange for appropriate precautions.

The goal of this statute is to protect the public and keep them safe from the significant personal injuries that are possible when high-voltage lines are nearby. In a recent personal injury case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine considered an employee who was electrocuted when the mast of a customer’s sailboat hit a power line. The employee was burned and permanently injured. He got worker’s compensation benefits and also sued the owner of the power line, Central Maine Power Company.

The court found that the Public Utilities Commission’s rules and regulations required that a power company should have a vertical clearance of 45.5 feet. The power line in question was only 30 feet.

The court also found that the accident wouldn’t have occurred if the power company had followed the rule requiring 45.5 feet clearance, that the power company did not train its employees on the clearance standards, and that the employee’s employer’s negligence was not the sole proximate cause of his accident and injuries. Accordingly, the court entered judgment and awarded the employee $4,890,631 in damages.

The power company appealed. The appellate court affirmed the judgment. The power company paid the judgment in 2010, but sued the employee’s employer and others for indemnification. It claimed that it had a right to indemnification under OHVLSA. It also moved for a real estate attachment. The employer answered and opposed the motion to attach. The court denied the motion for attachment, explaining OHVLSA created a right of contribution rather than indemnification. The power company appealed.

The appellate court explained that the employer was prohibited from engaging in specific activities near the overhead high voltage line under OHVLSA. The employer was required to notify the power company of the work 72 hours before commencing the work. Until it notified the power company it could not perform work that could cause someone to be within 10 feet of the line or store any “covered equipment or item” within 10 feet. The “covered equipment or item” referred to in OHVLSA expressly included boat masts.

The appellate court pointed out that the statutory language specifically assigned financial responsibility for injuries and damages that arose from a person’s contact with an overhead high-voltage power line to the entity that caused the work to be performed. There were no exceptions built in to cover the line owner’s own negligence. There was no possibility in the statute of offsetting the amount owed by proportion of fault.

The employer had also argued that comparative fault principles should be applied. However, the appellate court noted that the employer was never a co-defendant with the power company and therefore fault was never allocated between the two. The Legislature could have worked principles of comparative fault or proportional responsibility into the statute, but didn’t.

The appellate court ruled that if the employer was found to have failed to comply with the OHVLSA, it would be responsible for indemnifying the power company for all damages, even if the power company was itself negligent.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as a result of someone else’s negligence or failure to follow the rules, you may be entitled to compensation for any damages or losses. Contact our Rockport, Maine offices at (888) 596-1099 or via our online form.

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