Supporting a Legal Case after an Electric Shock
The client is well served by retaining an attorney who has a knowledge or rapport with a broad range of experts who can offer assistance in electrocution cases.
Crucial in these types of cases is the ability to capture and preserve photographic and documentary evidence as well as arranging immediate evaluation by experts at the site. Electrocution cases may require a forensic pathologist, an electrical and a civil engineer.
Also, depending on the case, it may be necessary to consult with a construction safety expert. A licensed electrician is necessary to inspect any wiring and electrical panels, especially where parts need to be removed or tested, for example, as to the voltage or the integrity of any wiring.
Proof of the significant emotional impact of the loss of a family member may require a psychiatrist or psychologist to perform an evaluation. In addition, an economist may be required to do a study of the monetary losses of the decedent that would affect his spouse or dependent children.
Interviewing several candidates for retention is the key as expertise can vary for the type of case. Has the expert ever investigated an electrical shock arising from old residential wiring, for example? Has the one expert been qualified as an electrical engineer in court for a similar event?
At trial a licensed electrician can present based on his training, education, and experience his opinions as to approximate age, date of installation, model and manufacturer of electrical equipment as well as deficiencies and improper repairs in the wiring, electrical panels, and equipment.
The grounds for the opinion of an electrical engineer, on the other hand, can be based on his site inspection, review of the electrical codes and standards, photographic evidence, permits, records of local authorities, the power company, and the owner’s most recent electrician, as well as his knowledge, training and experience, and findings regarding the issues of causation.
A well versed electrical engineer can testify in court as to liability, causation, standards of care including the National Electric Code safety provisions, breach of standards of care – including all aspects of power distribution within the home, or site, electrical causes of electric shock, electrocution or shock hazards, and premises safety, in addition to failure analysis.
The form of the cause of action will be the negligence of the owner or possessor in a premises liability case. The defective nature of a product can be the basis not only for negligence, too, as well as theories of strict liability and breach of warranty, among others.
In conjunction with the testimony of the electrical engineer, a forensic pathologist who has investigated and published on electrocution accidents can testify as to the path and duration of the electrical current involved in the electrocution of the victim.
The groundbreaking study – known as the Red Wing Studies – published in 1943 by a research team led by the pioneering clinical neurologist, Herman Kabat, M.D., Ph.D., showed that the timeframe from arrest of blood supply to unconsciousness was from four up to 10 seconds in duration.
In a 2016 article in the Journal of Critical Care, the official publication of the World Federation of Societies of Intensive and Critical Care Medicine, this leading international and peer-reviewed medical journal,5 completed a “scoping review” or compilation of the literature regarding the time required to lose brain function and activity during circulatory arrest. After paring down 1524 articles to 39 that were reviewed – 19 involving human studies and 20 performed in animal subjects – the Journal concluded that most studies showed that the period between circulatory arrest and unconsciousness was within 30 seconds.
The medical examiner along with the assigned investigator will testify as to their findings from their post-mortem examination and the cause of death of electrocution by accident. The grounds for their opinions will be based upon their autopsy of the decedent, as well as the findings from the post- mortem examination report as well as photographs of the scene and autopsy. Because the medical examiner will not offer opinions apart from the manner and the cause of death, a private forensic pathologist must be retained to testify as to these areas as well as medical condition and life expectancy of the deceased.
Apart from the liability experts are the damage experts including the economist, who is an important expert witness to consider. The grounds for the economist’s opinions are based on his independent study, and his review of income and expense records including income tax records and social security benefits, so that he can make findings regarding the issues of economic losses and damages.
Not to be overlooked at the valuable witnesses who appeared at the scene. These persons are the other workers and any eyewitnesses, first responders, police investigators and photographers, as well as assigned personnel of Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MOSH). The power company may have investigated the incident to check the level of power being supplied or to warn of unsafe conditions for which it was determined that the electrical service required prompt termination.
Eyewitnesses along with persons arriving at the scene can provide their observation of the actual shock event and support the basis of expert testimony as to the path and level of the current.
Preparation and research is vital to a successful outcome. for the attorney handling this unique area of the law. As one learned practitioner once noted, there are areas of the law where experts know the body of science for their field better than an attorney does, but the lawyer has one advantage – preparation.
By studying the principles that apply to an electrocution case and by knowing the facts better than others including experts, and then developing the theory of the case, Chris Beard can be an effective advocate for a client.