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PLANTERS ELECTRIC MEMBERSHIP CORPORATION v. BURKE; and vice versa.
37303.
37333.
Action for damages. Jenkins Superior Court. Before Judge Renfroe. May 29, 1958.
QUILLIAN, Judge.
1. The averments of a petition that the defendant negligently strung wires charged with high electric voltage in an uninsulated state, at a height in a location where persons ignorant of the danger involved would probably come in contact with them and be injured, sufficiently alleges negligence on the part of the defendant.
2. In an action brought to recover damage done by the negligent construction of a power line the averment that the line was installed at a height lower than that specified by the National Safety Code is not permissible.
Elvie K. Burke filed a suit against Planters Electric Membership Corporation in the Superior Court of Jenkins County to recover for the negligent homicide of her son. The petition when amended showed: that petitioner is the mother of Ronald Burke, a minor, 13 years of age, who was killed as a result of the negligence of the defendant; that the deceased was not survived by either wife or children; Planters Electric Membership Corporation, the defendant, is a corporation chartered under the laws of the State of Georgia, with its principal place of business in Millen, Jenkins County, Georgia; the corporation engages in the transmission and distribution of electrical energy in Jenkins County, Georgia, and is subject to the jurisdiction of this court; the occurrence described occurred in Jenkins County, Georgia, on July 3, 1957, on improved property owned by the petitioner; this property is located on the west side of the Waynesboro-Millen highway, U. S. 25, one mile, more or less, north of Millen, Georgia; petitioner's house stands at a distance of 140 feet, from the highway, and there is a farm road which runs from the highway to the house at a slightly northeast-southwest angle with the highway; this farm road passes to the north of the dwelling house and ends in a backyard between the dwelling house and a barn and smokehouse located on the property; the barn and the smokehouse are enclosed by wire fences; behind the dwelling house is an open space or yard, 39 feet wide, more or less, which extends from the farm road coming in from the highway, which is on the north of the dwelling house, in a southerly direction to the southern wall of the dwelling house; a wire fence is located 39 feet, more or less, west of the dwelling house; this fence runs parallel to the rear wall of the dwelling house and encloses two yards, which are again divided by another wire fence running perpendicular to the rear wall of the dwelling house; one yard contains a barn and the other contains a wooden smokehouse with a metal roof; the dwelling house, yards, barn and smokehouse were located as described above at the time of the happening of the occurrence complained of, and for several years prior to that time; the defendant erected, maintained and operated a certain high voltage electric line, consisting of two wires, which ran over and upon this property; these lines crossed petitioner's property in a slightly northeasterly direction, passing directly across the yard between the dwelling house and the wire fence surrounding the barnyard; at the point where these lines passed in front of the smokehouse, and at a point where they passed to the forth of the northern wall of the dwelling house, they were 27 feet, more or less, west of the rear wall of the dwelling house and 12 feet more or less, east of the wire fence surrounding the barnyard; the top wire of the two wires, which ran over petitioner's property, and which are here involved, was a main transmission line, and it carried 6,900 volts at the time of the occurrence herein complained of the bottom wire is what is known as a common ground or neutral
wire and carried no voltage; the top wire heretofore referred to was at a height of 12 feet above petitioner's property at the point on the ground where the incident occurred; the bottom wire was 2 feet below the top wire, and, therefore, was at a height of 10 feet above the ground at that point; neither the top wire, which carried 6,900 volts of electricity, nor the ground wire, were insulated; there were no warning signs posted by the defendant on either of the two roads, or the poles, or on the property itself which would serve to warn petitioner's deceased son of the presence of an instrumentality so insidiously deadly as a low-hanging, uninsulated high-tension electric power lines; furthermore, petitioner's deceased son was never informed by the defendant, or anyone else, of the amount of voltage present in the lines or of the inherent dangers therein and the possibility of injury or death in connection therewith; petitioner's deceased son was a child of tender years, inexperienced in matters pertaining to the transmission of electrical energy, and he had no means of knowing whether the defendant's wires were carrying a deadly current or were harmless; that the defendant strung the electric lines described herein over and upon petitioner's property without her prior knowledge or consent, either written or oral, and at a time when petitioner was away from her property, on a date and at a time which is presently unknown to petitioner, but, on a date and at a time which either is, or should be, within the knowledge of the defendant who strung said line; the dwelling house, yards and barn were located at the place described herein at the time that the defendant strung said wires over and upon petitioner's property; petitioner has been receiving electrical service from the defendant for approximately 12 years, and was receiving such service before the electrical lines described herein were strung over and upon petitioner's property; petitioner's electrical service comes from a transformer upon a pole of the defendant, which pole and transformer were in place before the electric lines herein complained of were strung over and upon petitioner's property, and the service line to petitioner's residence came from said pole and transformer before the electric line of the defendant herein complained of was strung, and still comes from said pole and transformer, and not from the electric line of the defendant herein complained of; a windstorm occurring on or about June 26, 1957, blew petitioner's television aerial down and it came to rest upon the roof of the dwelling house. Petitioner's son-in-law removed the aerial from atop the house and stood it up by the fence enclosing the barnyard; the aerial measured approximately 10 feet 7 inches in length; one of the parts of this aerial was a connection called a rotor, which permitted the top portion of the aerial to revolve so as to point in various directions; petitioner's twin sons, Ronald and Donald, were given permission by their father, Ivin Burke, to take the rotor off the aerial and sell it; on July 3, 1957, it rained at petitioner's residence until about 12 noon, and the ground remained very wet from the rain; about 12:50 p.m. on July 3, 1957, while the ground was still very wet, the two boys, Ronald and Donald, who were barefooted, went out in the yard and took the aerial from where it stood by the barnyard fence, in an effort to lay it down on the ground in the yard between the residence and the lot so that they could remove the rotor; as they removed this aerial from the fence to lay it down, the aerial came into contact with the defendant's high tension electric wires and the electric current contained in said wires ran through the aerial and into the bodies of petitioner's sons; petitioner's son, Ronald, was struck dead immediately by the electric current, and petitioner's son, Donald, was knocked unconscious and his hands were badly burned; at the time of his death, petitioner's deceased son, Ronald, was 13 years of age; he was large for his age, being approximately 6 feet tall and heavy in proportion; he was also strong and able-bodied physically; he was attending school and did not have a job, but he rendered all of the usual services to petitioner that a farm boy usually renders, such as feeding the stock and chickens, gathering the eggs and driving the tractor; petitioner has been deprived of these services of her deceased son, Ronald, by the negligence of the defendant as hereinafter alleged; through its wide experience and lengthy service in the area which it serves, including that portion of Jenkins County within which the incident described occurred the defendant was familiar with the general conditions in this area; more specifically, the defendant either
knew, or should have known, of the presence of a television aerial upon and about the premises of petitioner's dwelling house; due to the location of petitioner's dwelling house and building on their property at the time of the stringing of the wires herein involved by the defendant, the defendant knew that persons would be constantly coming in close proximity to these two wires which were strung at a very low height over and upon petitioner's property; due to the nature of its business, defendant knew of the dangers inherent in, and attendant on, the maintenance and operation of such high tension electrical power lines; in view of the fact that the defendant maintained an electric line, over which a current of high and dangerous voltage passed, the defendant was under a duty to take adequate precautionary measures for the safety of persons, such as petitioner's deceased son, whom it knew or should have expected would come in proximity to its electrical lines, either for reasons of business or pleasure and in such manner as would expose them to dangers of contact with the line by accident or inadvertence; petitioner shows that the defendant was negligent in the following particulars: (a) in failing to insulate or shield the top wire when the circumstances attendant on the maintenance of said wire, as hereinbefore described, required that it be so insulated or shielded; (b) in operating and maintaining its top high voltage wire over the property of the petitioner, so that said wire was too near the building and fences on the property of the petitioner, under the circumstances as hereinbefore described; (c) in maintaining the top high voltage wire too near the ground under the circumstances hereinbefore alleged; (d) in failing to erect and maintain warnings signals or signs on either the poles or the property of petitioner, warning persons of the dangerous character of these wires; (e) in failing to warn petitioner's deceased son of the degree of voltage in the electric line of defendant or the inherent danger therein, and the possibility of injury and death in connection with the presence of these lines; (f) in failing to take proper precaution, under the circumstances hereinbefore alleged, to protect the petitioner's deceased son and others lawfully upon the property conducting themselves in a manner reasonably to be expected under the circumstances; (g) in negligently exposing petitioner's deceased son and others lawfully upon said property to a hidden peril and death trap which existed by reason of the fact that this uninsulated top wire was too near the ground and too near petitioner's buildings and fences, under the circumstances hereinbefore alleged; (h) in maintaining and operating power lines herein described over and upon the petitioner's property, at a height lower than that specified for this type of installation in the National Safety Code, said code being promulgated by the National Bureau of Standards of the United States Department of Commerce and containing safety rules for the installation and maintenance of electrical supply and communication lines which are generally accepted and are generally used throughout the United States and the State of Georgia; these acts of negligence on the part of the defendant were the proximate cause of the death of petitioner's son, with the resultant injuries and damages to the petitioner; due to the negligence of the defendant as hereinbefore alleged, petitioner has been injured and damaged in the sum of one hundred thousand dollars.
The petition also contained an averment "In maintaining and operating power lines herein described over and upon the petitioner's property, at a height lower than that specified for this type of installation in the National Safety Code, said code being promulgated by the National Bureau of Standards of the United States Department of Commerce and containing safety rules for the installation and maintenance of electrical supply and communication line which bare generally accepted and are generally used throughout the United States and the State of Georgia", which was stricken on demurrer.
The defendant filed a general demurrer and several special demurrers to the petition as amended.
The trial judge overruled the general demurrer and all of the special demurrers except that directed to the averment of the petition last quoted which he sustained.
The defendant filed a direct bill of exceptions assigning the judgment overruling its general and special demurrers was error.
To the judgment of the court sustaining the demurrer to the averment that the power lines were constructed at a lower level than that provided by the National Safety Code the plaintiff excepted by way of cross-bill.
1. The defendant contends that the petition does not set forth a cause of action because its averments show no breach of duty by the defendant owed to the plaintiff's son. In support of this contention the defendant cites Smith v. Ga. Power Co., 43 Ga. App. 210 (158 S. E. 371); Bridges v. Ga. Power Co., 39 Ga. App. 400 (147 S. E. 589), and foreign authority. In the two cases cited the deceased child came in contact with electric wires which were insulated originally, but from which the insulation had worn, by climbing a tree on the property of another. Under the facts of those cases it was held that defendant power company had breached no duty it owed the injured child. The facts of the cases are dissimilar to those of this case, except that in those cases as in this case a child was injured by contact with an electric wire. The foreign authority is not persuasive because not in harmony with the holdings of the appellate courts of this State.
The allegations of the petition clearly allege the breach of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff's son. Welch v. City of Camilla, 86 Ga. App. 609 (72 S. E. 2d 83); Lamar Electric Membership Corp. v. Carroll, 89 Ga. App. 440 (79 S. E. 2d 832). These cases thoroughly discuss the duty of those erecting power lines across the premises of another, and their liability for constructing the lines in such a manner that there is probability that others will come in contact with them and be injured.
The defendant recognizes in the brief presented to this court that general allegations are sufficient as against a general demurrer. It insists that in this case the general allegations are mere conclusions of the pleader and insufficient against special demurrer. The court's attention is called to the special demurrers that attack certain allegations of the petition charging negligence on the part of the defendant. The principle is recognized but is not applicable here. The petition set forth the evidential facts upon which each act of negligence imputed to the defendant is based, and the facts alleged, if true, constitute negligence. The petitioner's averments show causal connection between the acts of negligence charged and the fatal injury of plaintiff's son. Thus the petition sufficiently shows the defendant's negligence was the proximate cause of the boy's death. The defendant by way of protesting the insufficiency of the petition insists that one who maintains a power line is not an insurer of the safety of others who may come in contact with it. As authority for the position, the holding in Darden v. Mayor &c. of Washington, 35 Ga. App. 777 (1) (134 S. E. 813) is cited: "That upon the trial of an action in tort for personal injuries received in coming in contact with a wire charged with a high voltage of electricity, which it was alleged hung down from a pole in a dangerous situation as a result of the defendant's negligence, the court did not err in submitting to the jury, as an issue of fact, whether or not the defendant was guilty of negligence as alleged." Nothing in that case is contrary to this opinion.
The defendant takes the position in the brief filed here that, the plaintiff's own contributory negligence proximately contributing to the death of her child, her right of recovery for the child's death is barred.
There is authority for the contention that where a parent permits the child to be exposed to imminent danger, or fails when the child is in the parent's presence to warn him of an obvious impending peril a recovery for the death of the child may be barred.
In Atlanta & Charlotte Air-Line Ry. Co. v. Gravitt, 93 Ga. 369 (3) (20 S. E. 550, 26 L. R. A. 553, 44 Am. St. R. 145), it is held that, "Where a father entrusts his minor son, a youth of tender years, to the care and custody of another, such person becomes the legal representative and agent of the father in discharging the duty which the law imposes upon the latter, of guarding and shielding the child from injury. Accordingly, if the child, by reason of the gross negligence of his custodian in taking him upon a high and dangerous trestle, is run over by a passenger-train and killed, such negligent conduct is, in law, imputable to the father himself. Such custodian could not, however, properly be regarded as likewise the representative or agent of the child's mother. By express statute, in this State, the father is vested with the control of his minor child, and the mother is not accountable for the conduct of a custodian for him chosen by the father. Nor, in a suit by the mother in her own right, as authorized by special statute, is she chargeable with the negligence of the father, merely because of the conjugal relation existing between them."
A similar principle is pronounced in Stamps v. Newton County, 8 Ga. App. 229 (2) (68 S. E. 947) as follows: "While a mother who is compelled to earn her own living by her labor may not be required, in the exercise of due diligence, to be present at all times and personally overlook the care of her children, still she is responsible for the exercise of ordinary care for the safety of her child while the child is in her presence."
These cases are not applicable here. The petition that we now consider does not reveal that the child was in the plaintiff mother's presence or was of such tender age as to ordinarily require her constant care.
There is no allegation from which it can be fairly inferred that the mother was aware that the child intended to come in close proximity to the wires or would be in danger of coming in contact with them. Nor can it be inferred from the averments of the petition that the mother was chargeable with knowledge of the high voltage of the wires and the consequent danger that lurked in them. She did not necessarily know of the dangerous character of the wires simply because they were uninsulated. As a general rule a person of ordinary intelligence, a layman in the field of electricity is not credited with information concerning the dangerous character of wire placed in a position or strung at heights which indicate the wire is harmless.
The very fact that the defendant power company strung the wires in an uninsulated state, one within 10 feet and the other 12' feet of the ground across the barnyard of another indicated that the wires were harmless.
The court held in Lamar Electric Membership Corp. v. Carroll, 89 Ga. App. 440, 453, supra, that "there is nothing in the petition to indicate that the plaintiff was aware that the wires were not insulated, or that they were of high voltage, or could apprehend for any other reason, that, if one of the pipes which he employed in his work should come in contact with them, he would be injured. It is a matter of common knowledge that a great many wires used, for instance, in telephonic communication are not charged with electric current of such voltage as would inflict injury upon a person in like circumstance. Merely seeing the wires strung over the property would not put the plaintiff on notice of a dangerous condition."
The same pronouncement is found in Georgia Power Co. v. Leonard, 187 Ga. 608, 615 (1 S. E. 2d 579): "This defendant's tower, on the other hand, was a picture of innocence to the uninformed. Properly insulated, it was utterly harmless, and this court cannot impute to this plaintiff knowledge of the physical laws which govern the tremendous force conveyed over it. His conduct placed him in a position of danger not inherent or apparent in the position which he occupied, but dangerous only because the defendant's equipment was not fully insulated. His act was one which would have resulted in no injury otherwise . . . This tower, from the very subtlety of the danger, was more dangerous than a score of trains. Its death-dealing power was not discoverable by exercising the senses of sight, hearing, or smell. Imperceptively and noiselessly it struck its victim and left him mutilated and burned before he had the slightest warning of what was at hand. We do not mean that plaintiff's conduct showed that care and foresight which might be expected of one familiar with the force which passed along these wires; but this court cannot impute to him such knowledge or hold him accountable therefor as a matter of law, and therefore barred of the privilege of submitting his case for consideration and determination by a jury in the light of all the circumstances."
Exception is taken to the trial court's overruling certain special demurrers. The only argument made in this court concerning these grounds is, "Much of the contention above has application to the special demurrers; therefore, in order to avoid repetition we are submitting the special demurrers on the basis of their context, without further argument, yet expressly not abandoning them."
A careful examination of the special demurrers overruled by the court reveals that the trial court's ruling in respect to them was correct.
2. The trial judge did not err in sustaining the demurrer directed to the averment alleging that the defendant was negligent in "maintaining and operating the power lines described in the petition at a height lower than that specified for this type of installation in the National Safety Code."
In the 1958 supplement of 18 Am. Jur., p. 68, 113, it is stated, "The general rule that safety codes or rules promulgated by government departments or voluntary associations for their informative value do not have the force of law and are not admissible in evidence upon the subjects to which they relate, applies to bar the admission of such codes or rules on the issue of negligence in the installation and maintenance of electrical equipment. Safety rules issued by the Bureau of Standards of the Department of Commerce fall within this rule. In one state, however, the general rule is rejected and such authority is admitted. Thus safety rules of the Bureau of Standards are admitted as evidence of negligent installation of charged wires over the roof of a building. The fact that such authority is not sworn to, is met in this jurisdiction by the sworn evidence of an expert witness that such authority is esteemed by the professions as good authority on the subject."
There is no law or rule of any commission of this State empowered to formulate rules controlling the installation and maintenance of power lines requiring the installation of power lines in conformity with the National Safety Code. Thus the code does not prescribe a standard of prudence recognized by the laws of this State. A failure to comply with the code does not constitute negligence per se.
What is written here is not to be construed as a pronouncement that an expert witness may not predicate his opinion upon information gained from authentic and authoritative books as well as upon his own experience in the field of science and endeavor to which his testimony relates.
Judgment on main bill affirmed. Judgment on cross-bill affirmed. Felton, C. J., and Nichols, J., concur.
Dekle & Dekle, G. C. Dekle, Jr., Congdon, Holley & Smith, W. P. Congdon, Eugene Holley, contra.
H. Cliff Hatcher, Sharpe & Sharpe, Bouhan, Lawrence, Williams, Levy & McAlpin, for plaintiff in error.
DECIDED SEPTEMBER 24, 1958 -- REHEARING DENIED OCTOBER 20, 1958.
Saturday May 23 01:25 EDT


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