Electricity powers our homes and businesses and has become a vital part of our way and quality of life. But with its role and our dependence comes the risk of electrical accidents that can cause lifelong physical and emotional struggles for the injured and their families.
There’s a false sense of security when we use electricity, whether plugging in an appliance or using machinery; seemingly harmless, everyday uses can cause severe electrical injuries, even death.
How much harm electricity causes on the human body is dependent on the voltage, duration of connection, the path it takes, and level of current when it occurs. The dangers people are exposed to can happen anywhere, but the job and industry they work in greatly increase the risk of electrical injury for many.
When someone is involved in an electrical accident, knowing the legal options to seek compensation is important. An experienced Louisiana electrical accident attorney can guide clients through the complexities of a legal claim and ensure they receive proper compensation for pain and suffering, medical costs, and lost wages. And if the worst happens – a loved one dies – a wrongful death claim can provide much-needed financial security.
Types of Electrical Accidents
Electrical accidents can happen anywhere and cause minor to severe and catastrophic injuries. While an electric shock from a low current can be unnoticeable or cause a slight tingle, higher currents can cause heart and respiratory failure.
Reports from the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) indicate there are higher rates of electrical dangers in certain workforces, with mining and construction workers at the greatest risk. More specifically, 64% of fatalities involved workers who were “Constructing, Repairing, Cleaning” at the time of the accident, followed by 22% who were “Using or Operating Tools, Machinery.”
While there are clear dangers associated with electrical exposure, types of electrical accidents fall into three categories:
Electrical shock: The body comes in contact with an energized circuit or a part that has contact with an energized conductor, such as touching a live wire. The length of time, the strength of the current, and where it runs through the body all affect the level of shock and the severity of the injury. Where the shock enters and exits the body – the pathway – is important. The hands, feet, and head are usually the contact points of electric shock and electrocution.
Electrical burn: Electrical burn accidents affect the skin and can also harm muscles, organs, and bones, depending on the path it travels. The heat from electrical arcs and the thermal implications, such as heated surfaces and overheated equipment, also contribute to the severity of the accident.
Electrical fire: When the electrical current is strong, fires and explosions can occur. Gases and vapors near the incident can cause explosions, and equipment may be damaged or break apart. When this happens, injuries worsen, and greater damage is caused.
According to the ESFI, at-home electrical accidents are common. They’ve reported over 51,000 home electrical fires that cause around 1,400 injuries and 500 deaths each year. Furthermore, electrical distribution systems are the third leading cause of home structure fires, with arcing faults causing over half of them.
Signs of electrical problems in the home include flickering lights and humming or buzzing sounds, yet these common indicators are typically ignored. Even using the wrong wattage of a bulb in a light fixture can cause an electrical accident.
Causes of Workplace Electrical Accidents
Electricity is dangerous anywhere, sometimes more so at work. Occupational electrical injuries caused 126 fatalities in 2020 and 2,200 non-fatal injuries that required days off from work. Mining, construction, utility, and manufacturing jobs carry a greater risk of electrical accidents than other industries.
When an electrical accident happens, there are significant ramifications on those injured and their families. Employers are responsible for reducing workplace electrical hazards by ensuring safe working conditions, including adequately training employees and adhering to safety regulations. Unfortunately, many workplace accidents could have been prevented.
There are several causes of workplace electrical accidents:
Faulty, poor, or exposed wiring, electrical panels, and parts
Insufficient and damaged insulation on electrical wiring or equipment
No ground-fault protection for electrical equipment
Power and extension cords not rated for the manner they’re used
Equipment isn’t properly maintained or inspected
Inadequate safety training
There are many risks and scenarios that lead to electrical accidents in the workplace. Knowing your rights as an employee and the electrical safety regulations an employer must follow can help prevent accidents from occurring. And if someone is hurt by electricity, consulting with a Louisiana electrical injury attorney to discuss all legal options and considerations is essential.
Types of Electrical Injuries
The seriousness of an electrical injury depends on many factors, but the skin, organs and muscles can all be affected. Electrical accidents in the workplace can take as little as hours to recover from, but they can also cause lifelong illnesses, lingering health problems, and death. Sometimes, amputation is required if a limb is extensively damaged.
The type of electrical injury depends on whether the electricity exposure was flash, flame, lightning or true. An arc flash could result in surface-only contact (doesn’t pass through the skin), while flame means the person’s clothing catches fire. In lightning accidents, a short but high voltage of electricity flows through the whole body, and true injuries occur when someone becomes part of an electrical current. The latter typically results in visible points of entry and exit.
Electrical accidents could cause a range of injuries, including:
First to third-degree burns
Organ damage, dysfunction and failure
Broken bones and concussions (from falls or explosions)
Brain and nerve damage
Permanent muscle destruction
The total impact of electrical injuries can be life-changing and life-limiting. Seizures, headaches, chronic pain, numbness, and fatigue can occur for years following the accident, if not for the rest of their lives. There are also mental health implications with electrical injuries. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nightmares, and depression can occur both short- and long-term.
Louisiana and National Electrical Laws & Safety Acts
Electricity is widely used across the country, but there are clear and serious dangers when someone is exposed to or makes contact with an electrical current. Protecting workers and the public with electrical safety regulations and standards is vital to avoid injuries, damage, and outright disasters from occurring.
The electrical hazards associated with power lines are extensive, and at least half of all electrocutions that occur at work involve contact with power lines. The Louisiana Overhead Power Line Safety Act (LOPLSA) sets safety measures for those working around these dangerous sources of electricity. LOPLSA directly prohibits any activity that would put someone within 10 feet of a power line. If someone needs to work within that area, the worker and/or company must notify the electric utility company that owns the line. If they don’t and an injury occurs, the utility company could sue the person and/or business responsible for the work.
In contrast, the injured person could sue the electric utility company if the power lines didn’t meet safety regulations. For example, suppose a power line isn’t properly maintained (it’s drooping or there’s damage to the insulation) and someone is shocked. In that case, a personal injury lawsuit could be filed against the owner of the power line. They could seek compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, emotional trauma, and more.
Beyond LOPLSA, there are other safety codes designed to protect workers and the public from electrical injuries. This includes the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC). While the NESC is a voluntary standard, most states have adopted some form of it. Amendments and additions have been made, but in general, it’s widely known, and its core regulations and purpose are followed to an extent.
The NESC sets standards for the installation, operation and maintenance of large electric power and commercial utility systems that power homes and businesses. The four main areas it covers are substations, overhead lines, underground lines, and work rules.
There’s also the National Electrical Code (NEC), which is often confused with the NESC. Both codes are voluntary and have been adopted at the state level, but the NEC also sees its standards or a form of them implemented in municipalities.
However, there’s a significant difference between what the National Electric Code regulates versus the NESC: Instead of utility systems, the focus is on governing electrical work within homes and businesses. Basically, the standards cover what happens once electricity enters the place it powers; it applies to those who install or work on electrical wiring within homes, businesses and commercial buildings while also covering design and inspection standards. The National Electrical Code has been adopted by all states and is regularly reviewed and updated every three years to remain current and adapt to changes in the industry.
Louisiana Electric Companies
There are 3,300 electric utility companies in the United States, but Louisiana has four that sell the majority of electricity: Cleco Power, Dixie Electric Membership Company (DEMCO), Entergy, and Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO). All electric utility companies must follow laws regarding inspection and maintenance of power lines to ensure they don’t present a hazard to the public or those who work on or around them.
Louisiana electric utility companies cover different service areas in the state and are regulated by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. They also must follow the safety standards outlined in the Louisiana Overhead Power Line Safety Act. When an electrical injury occurs that involves a power line, knowing who owns it is necessary to make a claim.
Historically, natural disasters in Louisiana have led to increased electrical accident risks because of downed power lines. Neighborhoods and roads have been littered with live electrical wires following hurricanes, and injuries have resulted. Legal claims have then been made against utility companies for their role in the electrical accident.
There are approximately 1,000 deaths from electrical injuries each year in the U.S. When safety procedures and best practices aren’t followed, businesses and electric utility companies could be held liable when someone suffers an electrical injury or dies from one, whether as a worker or member of the public.
Many electrical accidents cause permanent and severe health complications that are costly. Lost wages, medical bills, in-home support and care, and emotional trauma are a substantial financial burden and can significantly impact the quality of life. And for those who lose a loved one to an electrical accident, their life changes drastically, and their future is often threatened.
Personal electrical injuries require the claimant to prove negligence; this could be a defective product, unsafe working conditions, unsafe powerline, safety code violation, poor workmanship, or other factors that put the liability on an employer, business, or individual or utility company.
An experienced Louisiana electrical injury attorney can help calculate the immediate and future costs and financial needs after an accident. The fact is, electric utility companies and other conglomerates that may be held liable have a lot of money to fight lawsuits, even when they’re in the wrong. With a qualified team of personal injury attorneys, you can fight back.
If you’ve suffered an electrical injury, the Louisiana electrical accident attorneys at Herman, Herman & Katz can help hold those accountable responsible and seek financial compensation for you and your family. Understanding your short- and long-term needs and the full impact an electrical injury has on life is important, and our team has been successful at getting our clients the settlements and verdicts they deserve. Contact us for a free consultation about your electrical accident today.
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For over 80 years, the New Orleans personal injury law firm Herman, Herman & Katz, L.L.C. has dedicated itself to achieving justice for the people we represent. The firm has recovered over $35 billion for our clients. Our experienced lawyers are fighting for people just like you. People whose lives have been greatly impacted by personal injury or families who have had to face the wrongful death of a loved one. People who are impacted by a mass disaster or whose injuries and damages are part of a class action. People whose businesses are affected by a tragedy or who need representation in commercial matters. The personal attention, experience and commitment of our attorneys has achieved results for our clients.