Safety Device Maker Not Liable For Shocked Worker

In the summer of 2001, Entergy Inc. hired North Houston Pole Line Corp. to install a new electric pole and to move distribution lines without interrupting Entergy's electrical services to its customers.

In the summer of 2001, Entergy Inc. hired North Houston Pole Line Corp. to install a new electric pole and to move distribution lines without interrupting Entergy's electrical services to its customers. John Brocken was part of a three-man crew for North Houston Pole Line Corp., all of whom were experienced linemen. They were assigned the job of moving an energized distribution line from an old pole to a new one. Brocken and a coworker, Thomas Ferguson, were in the insulated bucket of a bucket truck, 50 feet in the air. The third coworker, Clayton Demouchette, grounded the truck by attaching a ground wire from the truck to a copper wire on the new pole. This was not one of the approved methods of grounding vehicles set forth in North Houston Pole Line Corp.'s safety manual.

While the crew was moving an electric line to the new pole, a fault occurred, and electricity flowed through the new pole, to the ground wire and to the bucket truck. To escape being shocked, Brocken jumped from the lowered bucket and fractured his right ankle.

Brocken sued Cooper Power Systems Inc., the maker of a recloser switch that was part of Entergy's electrical distribution system. The recloser monitors the current, trips open at a preset threshold of 280 amperes and then recloses if the fault disappears.

Brocken asserted that Cooper marketed the recloser with insufficient warnings that it would not trip every time a fault occurred. The Texas trial court granted summary judgment for Cooper, asserting that Cooper had no duty to warn that its recloser would not trip in response to all surges in current.

Brocken appealed to the Texas Court of Appeals. That court noted that the presence of electricity in the line after a fault was due to the design of the distribution system, not a defect in the recloser.

Brocken v. Entergy Gulf States Inc., 197 S.W.3d 429 (Tex. App. 2006), Texas Court of Appeals, July 13, 2006.

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