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August 5, 2022

Utility Companies Not Liable for Substations They Do Not Own, Operate, or Supervise

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department recently held that a utility company supplying power to an electrical substation, without exercising any ownership, supervision, or control over the equipment, will not be liable under theories of common-law negligence for injuries resulting from electricity emanating within the substation.  

The plaintiff in Virtuoso, a building and grounds employee of a local water board, commenced a common-law negligence action against a utility company for personal injuries as a result of an electrical shock he sustained as he cut small trees and other vegetation inside a fenced-in electrical substation that was designed, constructed, owned, and maintained by his employer. The defendant utility company provided electricity service to the substation, but it did not own, operate, or maintain any of the electrical components beyond the connection point between its equipment and the water board’s equipment located at the edge of the substation. 

After the utility company established it did not own, operate, or maintain any of the equipment in the area within the substation where the plaintiff testified he was shocked, the court held that the utility company could not be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. This is because, in accordance with general principles of common-law negligence, the utility company did not exercise any supervisory control over the general condition of the substation and that it neither created nor had actual or constructive notice of the alleged dangerous condition that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. 

The Fourth Department’s decision in Virtuoso highlights the principle that, in a common-law negligence claim, a utility company cannot be liable for electrical shock injuries that occur within a nonowned, nonsupervised, and noncontrolled substation simply because it supplies the electricity. Motion practice seeking dismissal of these types of claims against a utility company is appropriate.  

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Matthew Larkin, Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area chair, at mlarkin@barclaydamon.com; Jim Milbrand, partner, at jmilbrand@barclaydamon.com; Ryan Altieri, associate, at raltieri@barclaydamon.com; or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area. 

                                             

1Virtuoso v. National Grid, 2022 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3772 (4th Dep’t 2022). 

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