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Appeals Court: AZ Utilities Can Be Accountable for Negligence

By The Husband and Wife Law Team on January 15, 2022

The Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled that utilities cannot legally shield themselves from a claim when acts of negligence have led to injuries, death, or property damage. This ruling was the result of a claim in which arcing electrical wires destroyed a home and the family’s personal belongings.

Arizona Public Service (APS) argued that they were not liable for the family’s losses, asserting that the utility was exempt from liability, as the damage was caused by “ordinary negligence.” The court found that although the utility was exempt from liability for service interruptions and “fluctuations in service,” it was not exempt from liability in a case of a fire caused by arcing service lines.

Appellate Judge Paul McMurdle, who wrote the unanimous ruling, said the argument presented by the APS legal team failed as, “arcing along a service line is not a fluctuation in electric service.” The three-judge ruling allowed the claim against APS to return to trial court, where the claimants can proceed to present their arguments in court.

What is Negligence?

Negligence, as defined under A.R.S. §12-2505, refers to wrongful actions or inactions that fail to provide a reasonable standard to protect others due to inattention, carelessness, or reckless acts. The concept is that foreseeable harm must be considered. When power lines are unable to support the energy flow delivered by the utility, then explode, and burn a home, it goes far beyond the inconvenience of a power outage – a home was destroyed.

The Responsibility of Utilities in Arizona

We rely on our utility providers to provide electrical energy to power our homes. These companies are exempt from some types of claims, such as the damages caused by a power outage. The utility must consider the safety of the community in their services, including the condition of the power lines they provide to homes and other structures. These companies have great responsibilities, which include keeping customers safe from harm. The “standard of care” includes regular line inspections. APS conducts line and equipment inspections throughout the year, but this power line appears to have escaped notice. It was not replaced and failed miserably.

Statute of Limitations Does Not Apply

The Court also ruled that the Arizona Constitution guarantees the right to recover damages, without any statutory limit, ruling that the state’s statute of limitations does not apply. The family who lost their home can now move forward to attempt to recover the financial losses experienced when their home and possessions were destroyed or damaged due to unsafe power transfer lines.

How to File a Claim Against an Arizona Utility

Filing claims against one of Arizona’s utility companies requires a breadth of understanding of the legal process. Every case is unique, but one thing is certain – the utility company has teams of lawyers to fight to avoid paying compensation. It is daunting to consider filing a claim against a large corporate entity. To do so, it is advised that you work with an attorney that is confident, experienced, and can take on these companies and their teams of defense lawyers with professionalism and skill. You have the right to attempt to file a claim on your own, but it is not a simple task, and most people in this position are represented by an attorney. Contact a lawyer who will evaluate every detail and inform you about your right to pursue compensation, based on the facts in the case.

  1. Once your lawyer has determined to have merit, a complaint can be filed with the Clerk of Court. The complaint makes a clear statement of the basis for the claim, and names each defendant in the case.
  2. The utility company’s legal counsel then has the right to respond to the claim, called the “answer.”
  3. The court issues a summons to the defendant, informing the utility that an action was brought against them.
  4. Motions can be filed to seek a ruling from the court, whether to dismiss the case, suppress certain evidence, or other issues. Hearings may be held, or the motions may be decided without a hearing.
  5. Initial pleadings are filed and must include all required supporting documents in the correct format, as outlined in law.
  6. The case is given a case number, and the summons and complaint are served to the defendant.
  7. The court date is set.
  8. The discovery process involves both parties gathering, sharing, and reviewing evidence and testimony.
  9. The case is presented in court.
  10. The jury decides.

You and Your Claim Against a Utility

If you suffered serious damages due to the actions of a utility in Arizona, contact The Husband and Wife Law Team for a free case consultation. We can discuss the facts in your case and advise you about your right to pursue compensation for damages. With three decades representing the injured, at The Husband and Wife Team, we have the experience, trial skills, and legal knowledge you need on your side. We represent our clients on a contingency fee basis – you will owe no legal fees unless we recover compensation for you.

Call (602) 457-6222 to speak with us about a case against an Arizona utility.

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Confidentially reviewed by Attorney Mark Breyer