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MEEHAN v. PHILADELPHIA ELECTRIC CO. (01/20/67)

decided: January 20, 1967.

MEEHAN, APPELLANT,
v.
PHILADELPHIA ELECTRIC CO.



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas No. 3 of Philadelphia County, Dec. T., 1960, No. 3285, in case of Louis Meehan v. Philadelphia Electric Co.

COUNSEL

Alan Kahn, with him Winokur & Kahn, for appellant.

Michael A. Foley, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Musmanno. Mr. Chief Justice Bell, Mr. Justice Eagen, Mr. Justice O'Brien and Mr. Justice Roberts concur in the result. Mr. Justice Jones dissents.

Author: Musmanno

[ 424 Pa. Page 52]

Louis Meehan, an electrician, was working on overhead electric wires when, brushing against a wire from which the insulation broke off, he sustained an electric shock which caused him to fall and sustain serious injuries. He brought a suit in trespass against the Philadelphia Electric Co., owner of the electric installation. At the trial, after he had presented all his evidence, the trial judge, upon motion by the defendant, gave binding instructions in favor of the defendant and the plaintiff appealed.

The Court below said that the plaintiff had not proved negligence on the part of the defendant; that, even if the plaintiff showed some defect in the insulation, there was no proof that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the defect; and that, in any event, the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law.

It is common knowledge that electricity is a highly dangerous agent and when it passes through a wire in sufficient voltage to be injurious to those who come into contact with it, the wire should be insulated if foreseeably

[ 424 Pa. Page 53]

    it may be touched by man or beast. The plaintiff's case is predicated on the proposition that the wire which electrically burned Meehan and felled him to the ground was not properly insulated. "A company supplying electricity which is well known to be a dangerous agent, is bound not only to know the extent of the danger but to use the very highest degree of care practicable to avoid injury to everyone who may be lawfully in proximity to its wires and liable to come accidentally or otherwise in contact with them. . . It has frequently been held that the failure to insulate wires so placed is negligence." (Shapiro v. Phila. Electric Co., 342 Pa. 416.)

The plaintiff had been sent by his employer to the plant of Rolling Rock Beer Distributors at 27th and Huntingdon in Philadelphia to tear out some old wires and install new ones. Working at the top of a ladder 18 to 20 feet above the ground he had installed the new wires and then descended to test the motors run by the electric current. He discovered that the wires had been connected in such a fashion that the motors ran in the wrong direction. He testified that in doing this job he had to operate on a trial and error basis because there was no way to "tag the motors" or to know "which wire was which from the roof to the metering because they were burned out. If I could have known which wire was which, I could have hooked up the insulation so that the motors would run in the proper direction but because they were burned out, it was a fifty-fifty chance, we had to hook them up, and if they don't go in the right direction, we make the proper changes."

He reascended the ladder and made the changes. In unscrewing the nut which had been turned rather tightly on the connector he exerted a muscular strength which caused the nut suddenly to turn and the ...


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