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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
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    2

    Default Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    My question involves a consumer law issue in the State of: NC

    What a saga! Hopefully I’m in the right spot, a minor but academically interesting legal situation, I could use friendly advice. We are property owners and have a tenant in one of our homes. May 25th a landscaper hired by the neighbor of our property to remove trees, bumped into an electrical line hanging across the street with their back hoe (they lifted it to far into the air). This pulled the wire about two feet down, which pulled the telephone pole and caused it to lean slightly, this pulled on the electrical wire going from the pole to our house. Domino effect. It partially ripped our power mast out of the house, shattered insulators, etc. The tenants were home, felt “shaking” in the house, went outside, saw damage (bent pole) got the contact info of the business, got a “gosh, I’m really sorry” and called me.

    Here’s where the fun starts and where it is interesting legally.

    We called the power company’s “down power line” number. They came out, said “it’s beat up but safe, we’re not fixing the pole, hire an electrician to fix your house”. We called an electrician who came out and charged us a visit and said “lines are hanging really low across the street, I’m not happy with it but I can’t touch utility lines”. We scheduled an appointment with him at his next available time (that was 10 days later) to fix the mast. We also called the power company and told them our electrician didn’t like the look of the utility lines, which were hanging low across the street. We got a “they are fine, not our problem, leave us alone” kind of response. We opened a claim with our insurance. Fast forward 10 days to the morning we are actually getting the power mast on our house replaced. A moving truck that is 13.6 feet high (we called the company for that fact) runs into the sagging utility wire (we complained about) that’s only 10 feet off the ground and rips the whole telephone pole out, drags it down the street, along with our power mast. The amount of damage is now quadrupled. Police are called, they make a report and give us the “here's yoru report number, this is a civil matter" talk then went on their way.

    Thanks for reading the saga and sticking with me, here’s the question. The landscaping company has denied liability because the $1500 in initial minor damages is irrelevant since there’s now much more damage and they didn’t cause that. The property owner that hired the landscaping company isn’t returning calls, apparently they feel no part of this is relevant to them or think the same thing as the landscaping company. Our electrician says (yes, I know, legal advice from an electrician) that the power company is at fault because they didn’t “make this safe”. The rental truck company denied our claim because the moving company "didn't get insurance". The moving company has insurance but their adjuster says "their vehicle is not at fault for striking lines" because 1) it was too close the the ground (power company or cable company's fault) and it was perviously damaged (landscaper's fault). We opened a claim with the power company, power company denied first claim and said they didn’t have adequate time to repair this. We appealed. They said "oops, we did have enough time but we're not at fault because we believe the first contact was made with cable television wire and not the actual power line, it's the cable company's fault". Also, our insurance company (home owners) denied our claim because the house "wasn't secure against future damage" even though we hired an electrician and the power company said it was safe.

    So "Liability Trivia" who is at fault and get's to hang out with me in small claims court? The landscaper that ran into the pole, the home owner that hired the now-missing landscaper, the power company who didn't fix a dangerous situation and multiplied damages, the driver of the truck, the company that employs the driver of the truck, or the cable company who had no idea their lines were sagging but had their wire hit a millisecond first because it was 12" lower? Or me? I think I'm a negligence free party but am I at fault in some way and should let this go? Everyone has either not responded to my claim or denied it.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
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    15,633

    Default Re: Liability Trivia - Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    There is probably some shared liability here.

    Quote Quoting Messenger82
    View Post
    The landscaper that ran into the pole, Yes. Raised the backhoe too high.

    the home owner that hired the now-missing landscaper, No. He's not the expert. He had no control over what the landscaper was doing.

    the power company who didn't fix a dangerous situation and multiplied damages, Yes. Knew of a potentially dangerous hazard and failed to correct it.

    the driver of the moving truck, Yes. Failed to recognize an obvious hazard.

    the company that employs the driver of the moving truck, Yes. Master-servant rule. Google it.

    or the cable company who had no idea their lines were sagging but had their wire hit a millisecond first because it was 12" lower?No. Cable company had no notice of anything going on.

    Or me? No

    I think I'm a negligence free party but am I at fault in some way and should let this go? Everyone has either not responded to my claim or denied it.
    My advice. Let your insurance company pay for the repairs and let your insurance company decide who to (and whether to) go after for reimbursement. That's what you pay insurance premiums for.

    What you don't pay insurance premiums for is the "privilege" of suing a handful of entities, all of whom will have lawyers that will steamroll you in small claims court and take 6 months to a year to make you wish you hadn't.

    Sure, you'll eat your deductible but that's a small price to pay for getting this taken care of quickly.

    Too bad you didn't video all of this. You could probably win the $100,000 from America's Funniest Home Videos.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    New Jersey
    Posts
    3,493

    Default Re: Liability Trivia - Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    Cable and telephone lines are required to have a clearance of 14' from the ground, power lines require greater clearance then that.

    So the contractor with the backhoe is liable for the damage caused to your home (considering that the cable lines were at the required height or greater). The contractor would also be liable for any other damage to the lines and pole.

    The rental truck company and driver are not liable do to the fact that the lines were required to have a 14' clearance from the ground. As a matter of fact, the utility company that owns the pole would be liable to damage to the rental truck (if any).

    The homeowner that hired the landscaping company with the backhoe are not liable for the damage that the landscaping company had caused.

    The moving company's adjuster is 100% correct. The landscaping company owes you $1,500.00 for the prior damage that they caused and the remaining damage is due from the utility company.

    Force your homeowners insurance to do what you pay them for, that is to make you whole again. Let your homeowners insurance subrogate against all the other party's to recoup their money paid out to you.

    Just read adjusterjacks comment, you will have to pay your deductible, however, once your insurance company is done with subrogation, they will mail you a check for the amount of your deductible.
    I'm not a lawyer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.......

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Posts
    37,030

    Default Re: Liability Trivia - Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    Landscape company: not liable for additional damages. The issue was left in a dangerous condition by the power company. Landscaper had no control.

    Truck driver: not sure how budwad determines there was an obvious hazard. Sometimes you just can’t see those little wires. If they were obvious, then the driver bears culpability. His employer as well under respondeat superior (same thing budwad said)

    the power company; yes as they blessed the situstion as ok

    as to letting your insurance company take care of it;

    Your $1500 bid from the electrician sounds at least 50% over priced.

  5. #5
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    New Jersey
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    Default Re: Liability Trivia - Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    Quote Quoting jk
    View Post
    Landscape company: not liable for additional damages. The issue was left in a dangerous condition by the power company. Landscaper had no control.

    Truck driver: not sure how budwad determines there was an obvious hazard. Sometimes you just can’t see those little wires. If they were obvious, then the driver bears culpability. His employer as well under respondeat superior (same thing budwad said)

    the power company; yes as they blessed the situstion as ok

    as to letting your insurance company take care of it;

    Your $1500 bid from the electrician sounds at least 50% over priced.
    Agree with jk, it is hard to judge low hanging wires unless they are right in front of your windshield. If the wires were at the legal height of 14' and were lowered 12" from the backhoe, that would put the hanging wires at around 13'. A truck that is 13'6" could not tell the wires were that low and that he were about to come into contact with them.
    I'm not a lawyer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.......

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2018
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    273

    Default Re: Liability Trivia - Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    Some excellent advice here! Pleasure to read.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
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    2

    Default Re: Liability Trivia - Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    Thanks for the advice everyone!

    Since the post our insurance company has opened and denied the claim (they are very efficient). They said the initial damage would have been less than the $1000 deductible (like $5 less) and they won't cover the subsequent damage because we did not "secure the house properly against further damage". Apparently we should have rented a bucket truck and fixed the line ourselves.

    Someone hinted that the prices "seemed high", that's correct. We were charged a gouging fee (Emergency Service) which works sort of Uber's surge pricing. This happened at 4:55 on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend, we basically got an "if you want the power back on this weekend we're going to charge you whatever we want" quote. This amounted to about 50% over the normal price. There was also some minor carpentry and shingle damage we've yet to handle.

    With that, most of the suggestions in the replies pointed us toward insurance. With the denial letter in hand now, what should we do?

  8. #8
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    Jan 2006
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    Default Re: Liability Trivia - Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    For the original damage go after the people that caused it

    for the secondary damage, I believe the power company is liable and depending on facts I don’t have, the guy that hit the wire may share liability, as well as his employer.

  9. #9
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    Jan 2010
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    New Jersey
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    Default Re: Liability Trivia - Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    Quote Quoting Messenger82
    View Post

    With that, most of the suggestions in the replies pointed us toward insurance. With the denial letter in hand now, what should we do?
    Ask the landscaping company for their insurance company's information. If they don't want to give it to you, you tell them that you will sue them in court and then do so. If they give you the information, then forward the bill to them along with your contact information.

    Send a second bill that shows the balance that was not covered from the landscaping company's insurance, to the utility company. You may have to contact them for an address to send such claims to.

    You could also try to send what is not covered to the rental/moving company, but I wouldn't expect to hear a reply from them and it may not be worth a filing fee to sue them in small claims court as 99 times out of 100 it is not the truck drivers fault.
    I'm not a lawyer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.......

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
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    47.606 N 122.332 W in body, still at 90 S in my mind.
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    Default Re: Liability Trivia - Truck Driver Collides with Dangerously Low Hanging Wire

    Again, the landscapers is responsible for the initial damage.

    The secondary damage responsibility may be shared among multiple parties.

    If the cable/telephone company wasn't notified of the damage to the pole then how could they come out to effect repairs of any sort? That was a big miss on the OP's part. I'm sorry to say that, but calling the PoCo doesn't mean that they'll notify other pole users. The secondary pole users aren't responsible even if it was the messenger wire that was snagged the second time.

    The PoCo's pole; just how out of position was it? These aren't simple fixes, mind you, as they are comfortable leaving leaning poles I'm place while the deal with planning a replacement for months to a year. This may not be relevant at all, it's just a note of curiosity.

    There is no "gouging fee" charged by any electrician. If you want emergency service you're going to pay for it. Those emergency workers, be they PoCo workers, telecom workers or private contractors, have lives outside of their day jobs and expect additional compensation when those off work hours are coopted. If you didn't like the fees/schedule you didn't have to accept the price. Admittedly, I say this as an electrician with 20+ years experience who's been called out to go look at unsafe damaged electrical equipment. Electricians and line personnel have families, lives and holiday weekend plans and, if you want to impact those for your benefit you'll have to pay for it. I charged double time from the moment I accepted a call until the moment I took off my boots for emergency calls, that came to about $170/hr. Granted, my customers were industrial, lost power was lost production, but the precept is the same. If you want my services after business hours you're going to pay for it. That's called supply and demand and on a holiday weekend to boot.

    The most irritating fee I've been charged, recently, was paying my attorney to discuss a billing issue. This was a bit beyond the pale.
    "Where do those stairs go?"
    "They go up!"

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