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Electrical Accidents: A Primer for Lawyers

Here at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend we protect the rights of individuals whose lives have been affected by electrical accidents. There are thousands of people injured every year as a result of accidental contact with electrical components. Examples of electrical accidents are flash burns, electrical explosions, electrical fires, electric shocks, and electrocutions.

These accidents occur when electricity enters one place on your body and exits out another. The electrical current running through you body is what causes electric shock. The damage done to the body is not limited to where the electrical current enters and exits the body, as the electricity runs through your body, it causes severe damage to every area touched by the current. The current can cause extensive damage to one's organs and nervous system, with additional burns at the points of entry and exit. If a sufficient amount of current passes through an individual's heart, it may cause ventricular fibrillation followed by asphyxiation due to the heart ceasing to beat.

Electrical accidents can occur anywhere there is electricity. Electrical accidents in the home occur often. For instance, common electrical accidents occurring in the home stem from touching a defective electrical appliance with one hand and touching water with the other hand. Power tools and hair dryers are the most common items involved. More frequently, electrical accidents occur at a worksite. These work-related accidents result from incidental or accidental touching of an overhead power line and many result in severe injury or death. One does not have to touch the power line with his hand to be harmed, more common, the power lines come into contact with irrigation pipes, cranes, trucks, scaffolding, antennas and ladders.

As an attorney who has handled many electrocution cases, it must be noted that knowledge of the vernacular used in electrical accident cases is a necessity. Here are a few terms to get you started.

Conductor vs. Insulator

A conductor is something (or someone) electricity can travel through. Good conductors include copper and aluminum, and as you may know, most wiring is made from these materials. An insulator is something that keeps the conductor from conducting and/or controls what the conductor does. An insulator is a material that impedes the flow of electricity. For example, polyethylene that encases copper wiring is an insulator.

Circuits

The circuit provides the path for the electrical current to flow. A closed circuit is a complete path-meaning that the electricity flows from the source to the destination without interference, and then flows back to the source. An open circuit means that something has stopped or interrupted the continuity of the current-simple wear and tear can cause this. A short circuit means that there is an atypical connection between wires or between a wire and the ground. Short circuits will trip the circuit breaker. A circuit breaker protects each circuit if it is overloaded with current. A circuit breaker can shut-off automatically (when overloaded) or manually when it is time to make repairs or upgrades. A circuit overload simply means that there is too much current moving through the circuit, the wires get hot, and can be extremely dangerous.

Lines

There are several types of electrical lines that a lawyer should familiarize himself with. Transmission lines are power lines that carry high voltage electricity over long distances. Distribution lines can run above ground or below ground. These lines carry electricity through towns and neighborhoods. Service lines are the electric wires that run from the utility pole to the meter at your home or business. These lines are also referred to as "service drops"-which most commonly are a tri-plex wire consisting of a bare center wire accompanied by two coded black wires wrapped around. And finally, an electric transformer is the gray box mounted on the utility pole below the distribution lines. The transformer reduces the primary voltage from the transmission lines down to a household level-sent through the distribution line.

Finally, one should always make their best efforts to prevent the horrific effects of electrical accidents. One way to prevent these events from occurring is the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). These are often used in homes. The GFCI is a circuit breaker which opens within a tenth of a second if the current exceeds a certain voltage amount (6 milliamps). In homes, they are affixed to electrical outlets near water sources like the bathroom, kitchen and laundry rooms. The GFCI shuts off power instantly when a circuit shorts or overloads.

Our law firm strives to protect the rights of individuals who are injured in all types of electrical accidents. Currently we are representing three clients who are victims of negligent working conditions and as a result lost their limbs from electrical accidents. These victims' lives have been changed forever. However, the best solution is prevention. As the saying goes "a little goes a long way", and with a little knowledge of electrical accidents, hopefully our prevention efforts, such as safe working conditions and the use of GFCIs, will go a long way.

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    The Equal Access to Justice Champions Program was started by the Houston Bar Association in 2006, to help ensure placement of Houston Volunteer Lawyers cases with pro bono volunteers. Originally, firms were tiered according to size, and firms within each tier committed to accept a certain number of pro bono cases from HVL each year for five years.

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