Law School Case Brief
Washington v. La. Power & Light Co. - 555 So. 2d 1350 (La. 1990)
The power company's duty to provide against resulting injuries, as in similar situations, is a function of three variables: (1) the possibility that the electricity will escape; (2) the gravity of the resulting injury, if it does; (3) the burden of taking adequate precautions that would avert the accident. 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.
The decedent, John Washington, Sr., was electrocuted when he attempted to move a citizens band radio antenna under an uninsulated electrical wire that ran across his yard. The wire was owned and maintained by defendant Louisiana Power & Light Company ("LP&L"). Plaintiffs Yosheda Washington and John Washington, Jr., individually and on behalf of their deceased father, filed a wrongful death action in Louisiana state court against LP&L and others. After a trial on the merits, a jury found LP&L at fault in the accident and awarded plaintiffs $ 500,000 for pain and suffering and the loss of life of the decedent and $ 75,000 for each plaintiff's loss of love, affection and support. LP&L appealed. The court of appeal, noting that the decedent had five years earlier received an electrical shock when he touched the antenna to the same line, and had since that time been extremely careful to never move the antenna alone or towards the line until the day of the fatal accident, reversed, concluding that LP&L did not breach any duty owed to the decedent. Plaintiffs were granted a writ of certiorari.
Did LP&L breach a duty it owed to the decedent?
The state supreme court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal. The court found that the jury verdict for plaintiffs was manifestly erroneous. The court noted that although the gravity of the injury in a power line accident was usually severe, under the circumstances the magnitude of the risk was not great because the possibility that the radio antenna would be brought into contact with the power line was very slight. The C]court held that because decedent was aware of the danger and chose to ignore it, a warning by LP&L would not have averted the accident. Further, the court held that the burden of the safety measures LP&L might have taken to avoid the accident outweighed the magnitude of the risk.
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