Holding Electric Utilities Responsible for Negligent Underground Installation Work


After indignantly waving their tariff in your face, electric utilities are quick to claim "lack of notice" when confronted with claims alleging that an electrical malfunction in the utility’s wiring and equipment caused a fire at your insured’s property. Many times, this defense deters further recovery efforts. But a thorough investigation of the utility’s pre-loss knowledge, likely only possible through litigation, may provide you with a viable subrogation claim.

For example, your electrical expert tells you that the fire at your insured’s property was caused by an electrical surge into the electric meter located on the exterior of your insured’s house. The surge, in turn, resulted from shorting and electrical activity in the underground distribution bus buried beneath a box outside the property. Your expert also determines that the arcing and electrical activity at the bus probably resulted from settlement, which may have been caused by improperly compacted soil.

The utility claims it had no notice of any problems with the electrical service, settlement, or the compaction of the soil and consequently, no reason or duty to inspect its underground equipment before the fire. Moreover, the utility claims, it sub contracted the electrical service installation work and the developer was responsible for compacting the soil.

You can ask the utility for its internal records concerning service calls for any property serviced by the underground equipment, for records regarding the installation work, and for records regarding the utility’s knowledge of problems with settlement at this development, and possibly studies in the utility’s possession regarding the effects of settlement and their equipment’s ability to withstand anticipated ground settlement. Of course, the utility is not going to voluntarily provide you with any information. So the reality is, if you have a good expert and the case is sufficiently large, it may be in your best interest to file suit to obtain the information and the utility’s internal documents you need to support your claims, or to confirm that there is no basis for a claim against the utility.

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