NEGLIGENCE Violation of P.U.C. RulePosted by BS - 10/06/10 at 12:06 pm
Smith v. CMP, 2010 ME 9, 988 A.2d 968, Saufley, C.J.
The Law Court upheld a $4.9 million dollar verdict in favor of a plaintiff who was severely injured when a sailboat mast he was moving made contact with a power line. The issue presented by the appeal was whether the Superior Court erred in finding that CMP violated a P.U.C. rule establishing minimum vertical clearances for power lines in areas “intended to be used by the public for rigging or launching sailboats.” The Court said that it could not be certain that the Superior Court intended its decision on negligence to stand absent the finding that the rule was violated and therefore the finding had to be reviewed.
The Law Court affirmed the finding, rejecting CMP’s argument that the area where the accident took place, a boatyard that was bisected by a road along which electric lines were strung on poles, was an area “posted for rigging sailboats” as required by the rule. The Court concluded that the P.U.C. did not intend to limit the rule’s scope to areas that were posted by signage for rigging sailboats but included areas with launching ramps or other special facilities or land improvements which indicated that the area was intended for such use. Thus, the rule included the area where the accident took place and governed the minimum vertical clearance for power lines in that area, which was violated by the line that caused the injury.
The Law Court also rejected the argument that the Commission’s rules applied only to power lines that crossed public or private land and water areas and that this did not cross an area but ran along and within a public highway right-of-way. The Superior Court conducted a view of the boatyard and the power line and observed that the highway bisected the boatyard. Thus, the Superior Court could reasonably have found that the power line crossed an area that was “posted for rigging or launching sailboats” even though it was within a public right-of-way.