Personal injuries are not limited to physical harm. Injury can be to your reputation, your land, or your property and recovered under the tort laws. That means, for example, if someone were to crash their car into your house, you can still sue them under the same laws that would apply had they hit you with their car instead.
So what if you were in the situation of Joyce and Laird Whiting, farmers in Pulaski Township, Pennsylvania, who had 10 of their cows killed by a downed power line? The 8 adult cows and 2 calves came into contact with the power line and were electrocuted, according to The Associated Press. The Beefmaster cows are valued at around $1200 per cow, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Could the Whitings recover for their loss?
The Whiting's best chance would be to sue Penn Power under the legal theories of negligence or strict liability.
It might be possible to recover damages from power companies under the theory that electricity is a product. In a products liability case, you must show that the product is defective either through its manufacture, design, or its marketing.
Here, the Whitings could claim that the manufacture or design of the power line was defective because the line fell. It is certainly difficult to claim that the known purpose of a power line is to fall. However, the Whitings would have a difficult time with this claim because in Pennsylvania the courts have stated that electricity is a product only after it has passed through the meter on your house.
Under a theory of negligence, the Whitings would have to show that Penn Power owed them a duty, that it breached that duty, and that the breach was the cause of the damage.
Here, the Whitings can claim that Penn Power had a duty to keep the power lines in good repair so that they would not fall and damage their livestock. This argument may be difficult to make because Penn Power could have been acting as diligently as it could and yet, the line still fell.
The Whitings could also claim that the only reason the line fell was negligence, under a theory called res ipsa loquitur, which means "the thing speaks for itself." Unfortunately for the Whitings, it is possible for power lines to fall without negligence on the part of the power company.
All in all, it looks like Joyce and Laird Whiting have at least some basis for a lawsuit, but it could be an uphill battle to recover damages from Penn Power for their 10 cows killed by a downed power line.
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