ROBERT A. WARD and wife, SALLY WARD, v. CITY OF LEBANON, TENNESSEE; CITY OF LEBANON GAS DEPARTMENT; JAMES N. BUSH CONSTRUCTION, INC.; FOSTER ENGINEERING & ENERGY, INC.; and WATER MANAGEMENT SERVICES, LLC. (Tenn.Ct.App. April 28, 2008).
Plaintiff, while excavating, struck a gas line which resulted in an explosion and fire, seriously injuring plaintiff. Plaintiffs brought this action against several defendants and the case went to trial against the City of Lebanon and Bush Construction Company, Inc. A jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs and allocated percentages of fault as to both defendants and the plaintiff. The Trial Court entered Judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and defendants appealed. We reverse the Trial Court Judgment and remand for a new trial on the grounds that a part of the charge to the jury was erroneous.
Opinion may be found at the TBA website:
"The Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act (also known as the Tennessee One-Call statute), codified at Tenn. Code Ann. §65-31-101 et seq., states that “no person may excavate in a street, highway, public space, a private easement of an operator or within one hundred feet (100') of the edge of the pavement of a street or highway, or demolish a building, without giving the notice required by §65-31-106 in the manner provided by such section.” Tenn. Code Ann. §65-31-106 states that before beginning any excavation, a person shall serve written or telephonic notice of intent to excavate at least three working days prior to the actual date of excavation, and that if 15 calendar days expire and the excavation is not complete, then the person shall serve an additional notice at least three working days prior to the expiration of time on the fifteenth day. There is no dispute in this case that Ward did not comply with the provisions of the One-Call statute." Id.
"The record shows that all the parties knew that Ward had to return for further excavations and that the gas line had been reconnected. The UUDPA does not indicate that an excavator’s failure to make the notifying call absolves the utility in all circumstances from negligence or from any common law duty to act reasonably to prevent harm. As stated above, a “risk is unreasonable and gives rise to a duty to act with due care if the foreseeable probability and gravity of harm posed by defendant's conduct outweigh the burden upon defendant to engage in alternative conduct that would have prevented the harm.” Id. In this case, the foreseeable probability and gravity of harm to plaintiff posed by defendants’ re-connection of the subject gas line, with the knowledge that plaintiff would be excavating in the area, outweigh the burden upon defendant to warn plaintiff that the gas line had been re-connected." Id.