Summary of Washington v. Louisiana Power & Light Co., S. Ct. LA, 1990
Facts: LP & L had strung an uninsulated 8000 volt electrical line 21 feet above ground and 23 ft inside the rear property line and fence of the deceased, John Washington. Mr. Washington and his son moved the antenna one day and it made contact with the powerline, knocking each to the ground and burning them. LP & L was notified, but they claimed if the line was to be relocated it would be at the deceased’s expense. Five years later the antenna lowered and moved again for repair. LP & L responded to a power outage and recharged the line. Later that day Mr. Washington was found deceased. Pathology determined COD as electrocution.
Issue: Whether LP & L knew or should have known that the possibility of serious injury or death constituted an unreasonable risk of harm ?
Procedure: Jury awarded judgment for PL. DF appealed and Ct. of App set aside that judgment.
Rule: When the product of the possibility of escape multiplied times the gravity of the harm, if it happens, exceeds the burden of precautions, the risk is unreasonable and the failure to take those precautions is negligence.
Ct. Rationale: Except for the single occasion, where deceased was injured, the antenna was safely stationed for years. Between the date of the first injury and the death, the deceased was never known to handle the antenna carelessly. When a high degree of gravity of loss is multiplied by the very small possibility of the accident occurring in this case, it is clear that the product does not outweigh the burdens or costs of the precautions of relocating or insulating the powerline. The power company’s ability to perceive risks is superior and its duty is utmost.
PL A: The DF knew or should have known of the possibility of an accident resulting in serious injury or death was an unreasonable risk of harm.
Def A: LP & L did not breach a duty to exercise a standard of care that a reasonable and prudent person would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances.