Negligence is defined as conduct that falls below the standard established by law for the protection of others against an unreasonable risk of harm. The test for determining whether a risk is unreasonable is supplied by the following formula. The amount of caution demanded of a person by an occasion is the result of three factors: the likelihood that his conduct will injure others, taken with the seriousness of the injury if it happens, balanced against the interest which he must sacrifice or the cost of the precaution he must take to avoid the risk. If the product of the likelihood of injury multiplied times the seriousness of the injury exceeds the burden of the precautions, the risk is unreasonable and the failure to take precautions or sacrifice the interest is negligence. This formula may be used to measure and compare the negligence or fault of one person with that of another.
A tree trimmer was electrocuted when his safety rope contacted with defendant power company's distribution line. Plaintiff filed an action for wrongful death and the trial court found that the defendant's negligence caused the accident because it had actual and constructive notice of the dangerous line, it did not adequately inspect the line or remove trees from its right-of-way, and it failed to place adequate warnings near the line. The trial court found that the tree trimmer was not negligent because he did not appreciate and was not aware of the special danger created by the high voltage lines. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision. Plaintiff family appealed and the trial court judgment was reinstated as to the finding that the majority of the fault for the tree trimmer's death was attributable to the power company.
Can defendant company be completely absolved of liability for negligence?
The court agreed with the appeals court that the trial court committed an error of law in finding the tree trimmer free of any fault. Even though the tree trimmer had no actual notice or knowledge of the danger presented, he was legally obliged to recognize that his work involved a risk of harm and that he had to take special precautions against the extreme dangers presented. Under a risk benefit analysis, the cost of taking precautions was greater for the tree trimmer than the power company. The tree trimmer was 40 percent at fault. Plaintiffs' damage award was apportioned pursuant to La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 2323.