Unfortunately, thousands of people are injured or killed each year as a result of contact with power lines or other power sources. Among these accidents are electric shocks, electrocutions, electrical explosions, electrical fires, and flash burns. We have learned that few people – including lawyers – know a great deal about electricity.
To cause a shock, electricity must enter one place on your body and exit at another. It is the current through your body that causes the shock, not the voltage at a single place. A bird on a high voltage wire gets no shock. It is common for one of the shock places to be the earth or a piece of metal connected to the earth. Electricity through your body spreads out between the two contact places and causes severe damage in between. If enough current passes through your heart, it can cause ventricular fibrillation followed by asphyxiation because the heart stops beating. Electric current can damage your organs and your nervous system and can also cause severe burns at entry and exit locations.
Electrical accidents in the home occur frequently. A common mode of shock comes from touching a defective electrical appliance such as a hair dryer with one hand and a water faucet with the other. Defective power tools also result in electrical shocks.
A very effective device in helping to prevent electrical accidents in the home is the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). These are now used almost everywhere in homes. It is a circuit breaker which opens within a tenth of a second if a shock current exceeds 6 miliampers. They are incorporated in electrical outlets near water sources in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.
Many electrical shocks result from the accidental touching of an overhead power line and many result in death or severe injury. These power lines can be contacted by cranes, irrigation pipes, grain augers, trucks, workers on scaffolding or roofs, boat masts, and radio and TV antennas.
The following are a few basic terms which will be useful to you in understanding how electrical accidents occur and may help you prevent them. They will also assist lawyers in dealing with electrical issues in lawsuits.
• Conductor – When you think about what a conductor is don’t think of someone who leads an orchestra, but of something or someone that electricity can travel through. Copper and aluminum are good conductors of electricity, and most wiring comes from these materials.
• Insulator – This is the thing that keeps the conductor from conducting or controls how it conducts. An insulator is a material that prevents the flow of electricity. The polyethylene that encases copper wiring is an example. Also, power lines between utility poles are insulated by the air and height that separates them from the ground and people.
• Voltage – Electricity needs something to push it through the conductor. Voltage provides the pressure to make the current flow. “High voltage” factors have to do with whether it can cause a spark in the air or electric shock on contact.
• Circuit – The circuit provides the path for the electrical current to flow. In the case of a closed circuit, this is a complete path – coming from the source of the electricity, moving to the place it’s needed and returning by the same route.
• Open Circuit – Something has stopped the flow and interrupted the continuity – maybe a piece of insulation getting in the way, or just simple wear and tear.
• Short Circuit – The “short” is an abnormal connection – between wires or between a wire and the ground. Shorts will trip a breaker. Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are receptacles or circuit breakers that shut off power instantly when a circuit shorts or overloads.
• Overload – an overload means you’ve got too much going on in one circuit. The wires get hot. The breaker calls a halt and trips off.
• Circuit Breaker – Each circuit is protected by a circuit breaker (or fuse) at the main panel. They shut off automatically if there’s an overload or short – or manually when it’s time to make repairs or upgrades.
• Transmission Lines – Power lines that carry high voltage electricity long distances.
• Distribution Lines – Power lines that carry electricity through towns and neighborhoods to homes and businesses. Distribution lines can run overhead or underground.
• Service Line or Service Drop – The electric wires that run from the pole to the meter at your residence. The most common service drop (typically) is known as tri-plex wire consisting of a bare center wire with two black, coded wires wrapped around it.
• Electric Transformer – A gray barrel-shaped objected mounted on the pole below the distribution lines which reduces the primary voltage down to household voltage levels.
Our firm regularly investigates electrical accidents to determine if there were reasonable alternatives available which would have prevented the accident. We are happy to answer any questions regarding an electrical accident. If you need more information contact Graham Esdale at 800-898-2034 or Graham.Esdale@beasleyallen.com.
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